On Wednesday December 3rd, 2008 I drove into lower Manhattan, to review Mindgame, a play billed as a “comic psycho thriller” at the Soho Playhouse. When I see a play or movie I try to refrain from doing too much research prior to my experience in order to go into it without any preconceived notions. I won’t spoil too much and if by the end of reading this you decide to check out the play for yourself, I suggest going in with an open mind.
Mindgame is no mere mortal of a play, and while immersing yourself in it you’ll feel like you’re stomping up and down the stairs of MC Escher’s painting Relativity, never really reaching a destination. Although, those who persevere through this rich Mindgame will feel rewarded. You’ll be left with a lingering fallout of thoughts, possible conclusions, and a multitude of unanswered questions. If you don’t consider that a reward, then you should think of going to see Shrek the Musical instead.
In the lore of the play, best selling writer Mark Styler has come to a mental hospital in hopes of interviewing Eastman, a serial killer. Styler’s book Bloodbath chronicled the exploits of 9 notorious serial killers, but an interview with Eastman eluded him. Styler first has to meet with Dr. Farquhar, the head of the hospital, in order to get clearance to meet with Eastman. The enigmatic and seemingly dignified Farquhar is not aware of who Styler is, nor is he familiar with his apparent written request to interview one of his patients. The play’s comic tone grows eerie as the quest to figure out exactly what the hell is going on begins. Farquhar calls for his assistant, Nurse Plimpton, a couple of times until she finally arrives. In what seems like an outlandish ornament to the play in her pink wig, white vinyl nurses costume, fishnet stockings, and silver hooker boots, the sexy nurse isn’t just eye candy as you’ll find out. The nurse is noticeably uneasy judging by her uncomfortable chuckles that follow her dialogue.
In the events that follow, a scalpel, a vintage 1966 bottle of wine, a shopping bag from Marks and Spencer, and a straight jacket all come into play. You may have to call upon your days as household champion of Clue to sift through the conundrums that makeup Mindgame. In this case though, you can’t be sure Colonel Mustard is actually Colonel Mustard and you most definitely will not be able to rely on the old standby and blame the butler “Didit.” When we reach what seems to be a turning point in the play, there’s a revelation about one of the characters. At that moment it occurred to me that I may not have been mentally raising the right questions. I had to fine tune my thinking. After more revelations occur, it’s not obvious which one we’re supposed to believe. The play’s finale is left open to interpretation, and for that reason Mindgame is the epitome of clever and thought provoking.
Coming from a former English major, I’d say Mindgame is quite a juicy subject from a literary standpoint. I did not read the novel by Anthony Horowitz, but solely based on what I saw in the play, there’s a profuse amount of themes imbedded in it’s layers. So exactly how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of mind game? Chances are, the center will probably turn hard as a rock before you can even crack the candy coating. Don’t bite it and walk away or you’ll miss out on fully enjoying and appreciating the finer details. Here are just some of the themes of Mindgame: influence, identity, insanity, perversions, murder, contradictions, incest, homosexuality, liberation, psychoanalytic methods, cannibalism, BDSM, role reversal, deformity, self perception/public image, mind over matter, and the arousing nature and glorification of murderers like Jack the Ripper. Or it could be about none of those things. Confused?
It’s hard to believe that only 3 actors created Mindgame onstage. Keith Carradine (Will Rogers Follies, TV’s Deadwood and Dexter) seamlessly stepped into the shoes of the doctor of the mental hospital, Farquhar while Lee Godart (Skylight, Copenhagen, and TV’s All My Children) vivified Mark Styler, the writer. The pair exchanged lines with artful elegance. Both actors utilized their superb comic timing while occasionally the play’s unpredictable nature forced them to erupt into skillfully executed volatile rages. Upon her entrance, Nurse Plimpton was a welcome addition to the stage, and my nether region. The nuances of her performance are to be savored. Kathleeen McNenny has starred in Richard III for the NJ Shakespeare Festival, TV’s Law and Order, and the film School of Rock, as well as numerous other TV and stage productions. Without this incredibly adept cast, Mindgame wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable.
Ken Russell directs the fine cast through the taught script of Mind game. Russell states in the director’s note in the playbill: “By the end of Act I on my first reading of Mindgame, I was ready for a small scotch. By the time I reached the grand finale, I was in need of a large one.” No matter how bemused by the script, Russell’s inspiration shines through in this well conceived production. Helping the translation from script to stage was Beowulf Boritt who has designed yet another exceptional set. The stage was set as Farquhar’s office and it contains several props and decoys of varying importance. Be perceptive and especially take a glance over at that morphing painting on the wall!
You’ll find Mindgame to be funny and suspenseful, yet mind boggling. It’s not as simple as it first seems. The play relies on atmosphere and dialogue so don’t expect big huge ensemble dance numbers. If you’re not down with perverse subject matter, or some scalpel slashing then you may want to sit this one out. The material is a bit challenging for someone who’s not a theater goer, it can be repetitive at times. The methodical nature of the script may just get you frustrated. But if you’re “all in” then pay attention to the subtle details, you may or may not need them! Is this not making sense to you? Good, that’s the point! It’s refreshing to know that much passion went into the production of Mindgame and it’s not just some slapped together stage show starring some already forgotten American idol reject. Even though it’s more to digest than recycled clichéd fare, it’s an experience you’ll be talking about for a long time so allow yourself to be engaged in the Mindgame! Back to The age old question What does it all mean? Carpet. Envelope. Wallpaper. Cigarette. Jelly. Yeah…that’s it! Intrigued?
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