Playwright Quincy Long melds an absurdist bent with situation comedy and comes up with “Shaker Heights,” an unfunny play that begs the question, Does the creeping, laugh-free pace reflect thoughtful absurdism or bad sitcom?
The real question is, Why should anyone care? The Atlantic Theater Company, which had some success with an earlier Long play, “The Virgin Molly,” clearly is showing its loyalty to a playwright who has turned out an inferior work. Although Neil Pepe’s direction does nothing to disguise the play’s shortcomings, the Atlantic’s acting company provides “Shaker Heights” with whatever appeal it musters. The situation of the comedy is little more than a premise, really: A brother and sister live on a golf course. Long stretches that notion into something approaching a plot. The eccentric brother, Buddy (Steven Goldstein), possibly in love with his flighty sister, Gertrude (Felicity Huffman), sets up their household in Shaker tradition, complete with chairs on the wall, odd dances and, of course, celibacy.
But celibacy clearly isn’t a priority for Gertrude (questionably played by Huffman as borderline retarded). When she’s not flirting with one-testicled golf pro Richard (Jordan Lage), she’s trysting all over the green with the local country club waiter (Ray Anthony Thomas).
Meanwhile, the siblings’ friends Frank (Todd Weeks) and Joanne (Mary McCann) are plotting to have Buddy committed so they can steal his house.
For a comedy with so much fornication, back-stabbing and mental illness, precious little happens. “Shaker Heights” consists mostly of characters talking in non sequiturs or acting like buffoons. There’s an occasional moment of tenderness between the brother and sister, particularly at the end when they, like the Shakers before them, are faced with extinction. Buddy and Gertrude, like the play itself, have come to naught.