NEW YORK–Unlike that mopey quintessential Simon Gray antihero, St. John Quartermaine, Mark Melon isn’t to outward appearances a loser. He’s just a very unappealing guy whose emotional disintegration will probably strike many viewing “The Holy Terror” as a kind of poetic justice, given his wanton and decidedly unholy ways. He’d better not count on sympathetic –let alone enthusiastic–word of mouth to sustain him or the show he inhabits.
By his early 30s, Melon (Daniel Gerroll) has blasted his way to the white-hot center of London’s literary universe. He delights as much in the ruthless downsizing of his erstwhile sleepy publishing house as in goosing up the fall list with self-help sex manuals, availing himself of a willing secretary (Lily Knight) and generally poking around wherever and whenever the urge strikes.
Somewhere among the furtive (and graphically staged) couplings and smirky editorial meetings, however, Melon deconstructs. Lashing out in jealous rages that escalate in threat, he accuses his sexy, long-suffering wife (Kristin Griffith, who is all those things but who also gives up any pretense of a British accent long before the intermission) of the very infidelities he is himself committing. Melon grows increasingly inchoate and finally is institutionalized.
All of this is played out in flashback. Melon first appears nervously fingering his index cards as he addresses an afternoon tea sponsored by the good ladies of the Cheltenham Women’s Institute. Right off, he seems brittle and slightly desperate, blundering his way through lame jokes, sweatily attempting to connect with his audience.
Touching on the debasement of the publishing enterprise to market concerns, “The Holy Terror” is bound to draw comparisons with Jon Robin Baitz’s “The Substance of Fire.”
In “Fire,” however, the author’s sympathy lay with the discarded patriarch of an eminent, if arcane, New York publishing house. Gray’s sympathies are more difficult to discern. Melon is thoroughly unlikable, but at least he has energy.
Everyone around him seems to have slipped in through a Dickensian time warp, from the eminence grise (Michael McGuire) of the publishing house to the wacky writers who cross the publishers’ paths (most of them played, in a tour de force , by Anthony Fusco). Who cares about any of these people? Ultimately, that will be the dilemma for those attending “The Holy Terror.”
Although there’s a fervid quality in Gerroll’s portrait of Mark Melon, Melon’s a creep at the outset and when things don’t go well for him, he’s just a creep shown his comeuppance. Gray hasn’t built any hooks to hang sympathy on.
In the end, there’s something bilious and condescending about “The Holy Terror.” It wants to be a rant against conventional expectations–all those jokes made at the expense of the Cheltenham ladies–and a lamentation for a thwarted visionary. But we know Melon, and Melon is no visionary.