Before the curtain rises, we hear birds chirping like on the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. The play opens in a forest by a log cabin with a cocktail sign. We see Calvin Little (Rob Campbell) in a wife beater, his half-brother Jack (Danny Wolohan), and Canadian Bill (Haynes Thigpen) conversing in wannabe Charles Ludlam style, but without his outrageous, twisted wit. They talk about cocks, condoms, and sport fucking. These three guys are like Dumb and Dumber’s even dumber cousins. Calvin is so dumb, he confuses North Korea with North Dakota. In high school, he was homecoming king two years in a row because he was left back. You can see why Calvin is unemployed.
OB/GYN Doctor Aubrey Lincoln (Laura Heisler) is a religious romantic who believes that Calvin Little is her soulmate. (She wears one weird oversized shoe) Calvin doesn’t have a phone, so they depend on fate for their meetings. Though her family hates him, Aubrey wants to marry Calvin and keeps a wedding dress under her bed. What she needs to get him down the aisle is for Calvin to get his first marriage annulled by the Catholic Church. Problem solved. Calvin killed his first wife. He gets action from Big Titted Betty who works the Marriott. Half-brother Jack, a church deacon, killed his missing wife, too, and buried her in New Mexico. Aubrey pushes Calvin to take the test to work in the Post Office. Calvin flunks. Calvin goes to jail. Calvin gets out. In a soapy final scene, Aubrey and Calvin part ways forever. “The world is not fixed up for happy endings.”
With The Patron Saint of Sea Monsters, playwright Marlane Meyer doesn’t say anything. An edifying theatrical experience isn’t obligatory, but the play fails to entertain. Sample the dialogue. “Take off that stupid dress, you’re going to college” and “Women who want to get married don’t shove their legs, not in Canada”. There are pearls of wisdom. “Why does everyone in America think the key to mental health is having a job?” One comedy axiom is for the audience to recognize truthful behavior, however exaggerated. There are no laughs with these lines, not even a tickle to the funny bone.
There are random asides on Congress, outsourcing, greedy corporate executives, union busting, and NAFTA. The animal interludes look like The Lion King in summer stock. The characters are unappealing, a deal breaker if you want an audience to care.
There is no doubt that the cast is skilled, but the actors are trapped in a vehicle that doesn’t showcase their talent. Only (Candy Buckley) as Helen/Lynette/Mrs. Carlsen gets the over-the-top style Director Lisa Peterson is reaching for. As Calvin’s mother Helen, dressed in leopard skin, Ms. Buckley is funny. She looks like Ann Reinking and acts like Helen Hanft (millenials won’t get these references). During her GYN exam, she asks the doctor, “How can you tell how long I was married? Does my cooch have rings in it like a tree?”
Second place for taking chances goes to (Jacqueline Wright), especially when she is playing Molly. Laura Heisler and Rob Campbell, as the paramours, don’t go far enough with their choices. This isn’t realism. The campy style doesn’t work halfway in between. If the whole cast pulled out all the stops, at least as a rehearsal experiment, the production might work better.
If The Patron Saint of Sea Monsters is supposed to be tongue in cheek, it’s more foot in mouth.
The PATRON SAINT OF SEA MONSTERS – By Marlane Meyer; directed by Lisa Peterson.
WITH: Rob Campbell (Calvin Little), Laura Heisler (Aubrey Lincoln), Candy Buckley (Helen/Lynette/Mrs. Carlsen), Danny Wolohan (Jack/Jesus/Speedy/Ray), Jacqueline Wright (Penny/Molly/Betty/St. Martyrbride), Haynes Thigpen (Canadian Bill/Psychic Tom/Fr. Fabian), The Company (Animals).
Scenic Design by Rachel Hauck; Costume Design by Paloma Young; Lighting Design by Russell H. Champa; Sound Design by Darron L. West; Casting by Alaine Alldaffer, CSA; Press Representative, The Publicity Office; Production Stage Manager, Marisa Levy; Assistant Stage Manager, Jared Oberholtzer. Presented by Playwrights Horizons, Tim Sanford, Artistic Director; Leslie Marcus, Managing Director; Carol Fishman, General Manager. At Playwrights Horizons Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036, (212) 564-1235, www.playwrightshorizons.org. Through December 1. Run Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including intermission.