The Invitation is so well-cooked that the roars of laughter threaten to drown out the subtler points Brian Parks is making with his hyperactive style. As a social satire of the rich, Parks strips his characters down to five very similar blanks and stuffs them full of the fattiest (in a foie gras way) text, then watches as John Clancy amps up the violence and the speed, a gore- and gorge-fest on one very sharp skewer.
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
If Harold Pinter is known for his pregnant pauses, then Brian Parks must be lauded for aborting his, for he's a playwright who skewers social boundaries at supersonic speeds. Think, if you must, of an unhinged Tracy Letts. The Invitation, his latest, starts with a wickedly smart dinner party that quickly sets up its credentials by namedropping Tchaikovsky and having a Bard-off over Troilus and Cressida, and then sets about using all that pointless albeit hyper-intelligent chatter ("Does gossip count as thought?") to expose the impotency of the currency culture, the inadequacy and secret unhappiness of the superrich, for whom grand twelfth-floor views are just as easily prisons as prizes.
Case in point, Marian (Katie Honaker), a hideously offensive social dominatrix, putting others down for the sheer sport of it: as her bitter husband David (David Calvitto) puts it, "Marian's imagination is a bit fertile these days -- from the long period of money raining down on her." She's the sort of person who apologizes for using the word "retard" only because she can use "mongoloid" instead, or wittily coin a new one, like "neo-cretinism." She's an unfettered id, and because Parks is operating a notch away from absurdism, she's able to get away with murder, hitting shock value lines like "Steer clear of menorahs, though -- you never know when someone's going to come along and wipe out the Jews, destroying your resale market" far better (and more originally) than anything LaBute could think of.
It's no surprise, then, that David does at last turn to murder: "At what point in this world of ours, riddled with its pestilence and famine, its fly-covered oprhans and melting ice-caps -- at some point in this God-abandoned vat of suffering and cruelty the self-satisfaction of the Western World becomes a capital crime!" John Clancy is ready and willing to take the leap with Parks: he coats the entire cast (or what remains of it) in blood, and then proceeds to build and build from there, along with the help of the indefatiguable Calvitto, who chews through lines with such savage enjoyment that we'd be happy just to have the scraps of a good play.
Instead, we get a full serving of meat, though to be fair to the one-dimensional characters, most of it is fat. Delicious, chewy, absolutely unhealthy fat, and it's a credit to the entire cast that the arteries of the show never get clogged down any of that. It's hard to mock the shallowness of a culture without getting absorbed by it, but Parks stacks his deck with the always-trump power of original one-liners: "I'll take the First Folio over the Bible any day -- Shakespeare's jokes are intentional." Furthermore, by establishing the similarity of all five characters (Leslie Farrell, Paul Urcioli, and Eva van Dok round things out) in the jocular appetizer to this play, he's able to dole out a lot of "rich" observations about this social strata, from faith to law to culture to politics.
If you enjoy theme-park rides and uncontrollable laughter, you'd better RSVP now.
The Invitation (1hr 20min, no intermission)
Ohio Theater (66 Wooster Street)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $18.00
Performances (through 9/27): Wed. - Sat. @ 8
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.