Lee Godart and Keith Carradine in Mindgame
Photo by Aaron Epstein
Anthony Horowitz's Mindgame is a mind-bending and entertaining exploration of sanity that not only dares you to question society's standard, but tickles your funny bone, too. From the opening sequences where we hear a kooky song with the lyrics “run rabbit run” (not the Eminem or Pink Floyd version) interrupting the quiet to the Houdini-like set where doors seem to appear and disappear, we are being set up for a ride into madness. The ride is closer to the Teacups than the Scream Machine, but blood pumping through your brain is just as valuable as blood pumping through your heart.
For some people, staying in one's head too long can sometimes be a bad thing, as with Mark Styler (Lee Godart), a pulp-crime novelist who has built a career on serial killers. While waiting for two hours for Dr. Farquhar in his office, Styler captures his impression of the Fairfields asylum on tape, but his relentless musings on his strange environment seem unnatural. It's even odder when things that should be recorded on tape are not: when “run rabbit run” comes on and shuts off inexplicably several times, Styler doesn't reach for his tape recorder. From there on out, it's used sparingly.
By the time Keith Carradine enters the stage, you're ready for some excitement, but it doesn't come immediately. As Farquhar, Carradine is a commanding presence, but his exchanges with Godart are so cyclical at first that it slows down the pacing of the plot. However, the dialogue soon opens up to reveal great chemistry between the two actors and an invigorating, mental dance. Styler does his best to see a patient named Easterman, but Farquhar is steadfast in denying him access and repeatedly asks him to leave. Too bad Styler won't accept no for an answer.
Between lines of dialogue that are pregnant with underlying meaning and subtle humor, Kathleen McNenny cuts in as Nurse Plimpton, a 40s-dialect talking dame with a pink wig and a sexy nurse costume befitting of Jennifer Tilly. If you think you have the play figured out by then, Plimpton throws a monkey wrench in your confidence. Her appearance softens Farquhar's resolve, and soon he's not only letting Styler stay, but coaxing him into trying on a straightjacket to experience how the crazy half lives. Everything after that unfolds in a Psycho kind of way that confounds, amuses, and appeals.
Whether you're able to stay two steps ahead of the show or not, it has many enjoyable elements. From the fantastic performances of the cast under Ken Russell's direction to Beowulf Boritt's dazzling set, it awakens all senses and keeps them awake. Throw in Bernard Fox's sound clips that appropriately match the tension or levity of each scene, and what you get is a thought-provoking, quality show. Mindgame is part chess and part charades, and all wonderfully perplexing.
Mindgame (2 hrs, 20 min with intermission)
Soho Playhouse (15 Vandam Street btwn 6th avenue and Varick St.)
Tickets: 212-691-1555 $64-$74