By Betsyann Faiella
I laughed out loud many times watching Merry Me, by Hansol Jung. The fast-paced, complicated script, a celebration of queer female lust, draws heavily (HEAVILY) from Restoration Comedy, the Greeks and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.
This is the story of the incredibly buff Shane Horne (Esco Jouléy), a Navy Lieutenant on a base that has been plunged into darkness by a blackout. She’s a lesbian who delights in giving any and all women a good time, but she becomes unable to achieve orgasm, or her merries, as she calls them. At least that’s one of her stories. She has had sex with the wife (played hilariously by Cindy Cheung) of General Aga Memnon (David Ryan Smith) with her therapist Dr. Jess O’Nope (Marinda Anderson), and presumably most of the other women on the base, and she soon cuckolds the General’s son Pvt. Willy Memnon (Ryan Spahn) when she meets his wife, Sapph (Nicole Villamil). Saaph, however, was disguised as a man when they met, and the rumor ensues that Shane has gone straight.
The angel from Angels in America (Shaunette Renée Wilson) is the narrator of this piece, and lets us know that she has come down to earth to deliver a message and a mission to Dr. O’Nope: she’s charged with a “targeted effort to kill off cis-gendered male species of European descent.” With an axe. It looks real, the blade glistens and it’s too heavy for anyone to wield effectively.
Merry Me is a trove of inside jokes, political commentary, pandering, sexual innuendo, personal commentary, borrowed references, wink-winks, and very obvious references to pop culture, etc. – and it never lets up for one second except for a solemn bit of monologue by Shane quite near the end that feels incredibly self-conscious. I didn’t mind the fact that there were dozens and dozens of bits, dozens of ideas, borrowed and original packed into the swift 90 minutes. I found it quite funny. None of it seemed inappropriate or clumsy in its heavy-handedness, and the cast was absolutely first-rate. However, Shane’s serious turn was way too much of a departure and belonged in another show. It was extremely jarring to the mood and it left me shaking my head.
For an inside crowd, I think the show could seem lightweight. I found it pretty much laugh-a-minute, and even as a cis-gendered white woman, I related to plenty of the humor, which traveled far and wide from the number of women who have directed Shakespeare in the Park (almost zero?) to Melissa Etheridge, to the depiction of men as idiots even when they are not, to vibrators –a woman’s best friend at any age.
Director Leigh Silverman skillfully keeps the show running at a fever pitch.
Scenic design by Rachel Hauck was fun especially the vertical bed, and costumes were by Alejo Vietti.
Merry Me New York Theatre Workshop through Nov. 19. Ticket link: https://www.nytw.org/show/merry-me/