Control Freaks” is almost surely the first R-rated play to use the services of Flying by Foy. Beth Henley’s latest comedy, a mixture of sexual perversity and serial acrobatics, is often as darkly hilarious as it is startling.
Henley falters in the final scenes, when she unwisely attempts to shift the mood radically and explain her characters’ bizarre behavior. But the play contains wonderful writing, and the production proves she is an excellent director of her own work.
As the play opens, Carl Willard (Bill Pullman) has just brought home his fourth wife, Betty (Carol Kane). Her presence annoys his sister, known only as Sister (Holly Hunter).
Carl, whose surface attempts to embody coolness hide his increasing desperation to accomplish something — anything — before he gets much older, wants to buy a nearby building and open a furniture store.
To finance the deal, he figures he can convince Sister to give up her inheritance. He assumes he can get the rest from Paul Casper (Wayne Pere), the owner of the building and a man he sees as a potential husband to Sister. Sister doesn’t want to part with her money, but she does like the idea of getting married.
This quiet woman is suffering from the mother of all identity crises; she talks to herself in a series of different voices late at night and spends each day in a different wig in an apparent attempt to find her long-repressed personality.
The four-way battle for control over the group’s destiny provides dramatic thrust as well as entertainment value as the characters find creative ways to humiliate one another.
These involve sex games, glasses of wine laced with rat poison and — in the play’s best scene — an insincere marriage proposal from Paul to Sister. Her transparent — and increasingly traumatic — attempts to appear not too eager are extremely amusing.
Hunter gives a virtuoso — not to mention brave — performance, brilliantly embodying Sister’s many moods and, in the less-effective-than-expected finale, strapping on a harness and twisting about above the audience.
Each actor uses body language superbly in this physical play.
Kane brings an appropriate hard edge to her character’s ditziness, while Pullman and Pere play two distinct types of slimy men to perfection.
Sets, costumes and lighting are adequate without reaching the inspired level of the acting.