WHAT "Nantucket Sleigh Ride"
WHERE Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 150 W. 65th St.
INFO From $82; 212-239-6200, telecharge.com
BOTTOM LINE A zany cast of characters (Roman Polanski, Walt Disney, among others) inhabits John Guare's fascinating memory play.
Do not be fooled by the title. "Nantucket Sleigh Ride," the exhilarating John Guare play at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, is hardly a picture of the bucolic winter wonderland the words suggest.
The term dates back to New England whaling days, referring to the wild ride that resulted when a harpooned whale took off, dragging the sailors along for miles. And never could a play have a more accurate title, for the ride is wild indeed.
As the lights come up, New York financier Edmund Gowery (John Larroquette) is fielding phone calls about his current brush with fame — he’s a clue in the morning's crossword puzzle. That simple fact and a surprise visit start the memories flowing, as he flashes back 30 years to the play he hoped would be the start of an illustrious theatrical career. As his reverie continues, he recalls traveling to Nantucket, Massachusetts, where he used the $20,000 profits from the play (not bad in 1975) to buy an investment house that, unknown to him, had gotten mixed up in a child pornography ring. Things go rapidly out of control from there as he interacts with the residents, nearly everyone he meets having played a part in the play at some point.
Guare, whose "Six Degrees of Separation" revolves around the purported son of Sidney Poitier, populates this one with everyone from poet Jorge Luis Borges and director Roman Polanski, to Jane Fonda, Robert Redford and Roy Scheider (so hot at the time because of the universal infatuation with "Jaws"). Oh, and Walt Disney, who appears in a semi-cryonic state as Guare has fun with rumors that the icon had his body frozen after his 1966 death.
The play, directed with a keen handle on Guare's wry humor by Jerry Zaks, can get perplexing at times, as these characters come and go in Gowery's imagination. Larroquette is in fine form as a confused soul who gets lost seeking the elusive inspiration for a second play. Will Swenson, playing Gowery's over-the-top doppelgänger McPhee, is delightfully zany as he runs around trying to figure out how to cook an 11-pound lobster. Adam Chanler-Berat and Grace Rex steal plenty of scenes as two kids who appear to be straight out of "The Shining." David Gallo’s imaginative set, with its multiple rows of doors and Magritte-inspired paint job, adds to the overall sense of other worldliness.
Ultimately, there's no point in trying to make too much sense of this fascinating exploration of memory and imagination. Better to just sit back and enjoy the crazy ride.