Stacey Hull, Dan Burkarth; Photo Cred: Nicholas Wolfson

Stacey Hull, Dan Burkarth; Photo Cred: Nicholas Wolfson

By Jean Sidden

The press release for Brenda Shoshanna’s Looking for Parcifal says the playwright, “parts the curtains on the strange interactions between family and staff in a seemingly normal hospice where nothing appears to go right,” and further, “a family tries to come to grips with a missing relative whose passage from life to death may be more than imminent.” Left out of these descriptions is that the play is somewhat like an episode of the Twilight Zone, where all the “wooooweeeeoooooo” is present but where dramatic action, acting and directing skills, and, unfortunately, the writing, are lacking.

Annabelle (Vanna Pilgrim) and her brother Marcus (Marcus Watson) arrive at the hospice where they believe their brother, Parcifal, has been taken. They meet the scatterbrained Dr. De Croy (Dan Burkarth) who has no real answers to anything throughout the course of the story. Somehow they make it to the room where their brother is supposed to have died but the body can’t be found. (No, this is not a murder mystery) There they meet Nurse Mia (Stacey Hull) dressed in a costume that looks as if she stepped out of the vaudeville doctor skit from The Sunshine Boys. (No, this is not farce.) Counter to her appearance, the nurse is not sexy and funny but rather is completely humorless as she reveals her “love storm” relationship with the deceased in a series of repetitive speeches that for some reason take center stage and consume each scene. Annabelle and Marcus are angry. They are always angry and they are joined in their anger halfway through the piece by their mother (Lisa Landino) who wails unbelievably over her plight, a priest, who seems to have no reason to be there other than to balance the religious scale and finally an appearance from the dead Parcifal (Jonathan Hendrickson) who waxes all heavenly and spiritual. (No, this is not an episode of Highway to Heaven.) Is Parcifal supposed to be a Christ figure whose body was lost as he escaped this mortal coil? It is unclear from beginning to end what the play is saying. It isn’t funny, though the audience attempted some tentative tittering here and there; it isn’t touching because the characters aren’t fully developed and come across as unlikable; and it isn’t revelatory and that is where the snag is.

There is a hint of something important about the realm of death, which the living don’t understand, that Shoshanna is trying to communicate, though it is unclear what that something is. Certainly the play isn’t served well in this bare bones production, haphazardly directed and often quite badly acted. However, jumping into the deep end of spirituality on stage is a dicey business. It takes careful navigation through the traps of preachiness, didacticism and the tendency to be too precious with the supernatural. But mainly it takes creating a play about something believably human, with all characters discovered and fully explored. Unfortunately Looking for Parcifal has a long way to go before it actually works as a play.

Looking For Parcifal – Written by Brenda Shoshanna. Directed by Richmond Shepard.

WITH: Marcus Watson (Marcus), Vanna Pilgrim (Annabelle) Dan Burkharth (Dr. De Croy), Stacey Hull (Mia), Lisa Landino (Mother), Nate Steinwachs (Priest), Jonathan Hendrickson (Parcifal)

At The Gene Frankel Theater, 24 Bond St., New York, NY. from January 20 – January 31, 2015. Running time 90 minutes. No intermission.