The satire and the satired get muddled in Eve Ensler’s “Floating Rhoda and the Glue Man.” A sporadically dark comedy about the emotional travails (read: love-life) of hopelessly trendy Manhattanites covers more familiar territory than a tour-bus excursion, and even while the purpose seems to be parody (not always clear) the play’s pretensions rival those of its way-hip characters.
Rhoda (Myriam Cyr) is an instantly recognizable type — a 30-ish, overly “therapized” New York Jewish intellectual whose neuroses are as fine-tuned as her downtown wardrobe. She meets Barn (Dylan McDermott) at an art gallery, naturally, in which Barn’s wall paintings are meeting with great approval by the upscale, black-clad perusers.
Although the two are attracted to one another, Rhoda’s insecurity keeps her from pursuing Barn, and the artist leaves for a night of easy sex with fan Storm , a well-coiffed doctor (played by Madeline Kahnlookalike Priseilla Shanks).
The Barn-Storm tryst sets up the play’s central conceit — stand-in actors for Barn and Rhoda occasionally (and silently) take up the action while the “real” characters step aside to discuss their innermost feelings (think about the “Annie Hall”scene in which Annie steps outside her body during lovemaking to smoke a joint). While Barn and Storm are going at it, the “real” Barn and Rhoda are discussing why they didn’t hook up at the gallery.
Barn and Rhoda eventually connect, of course, but not without complications. First, there’s Coyote (Harry O’Reilly), Rhoda’s regular-guy boyfriend undergoing “warrior” therapy — an Iron John bit that seems more than a little dated, particularly in a play about trendies. Also in the mix is Terrace (Tara B. Hauptman), Rhoda’s childhood friend whose feelings may — and do — run to the sapphic.
Mostly, though, Rhoda and Barn stand in their own ways. The couple struggles with any number of issues in their courtship, from male-female role-playing to what the play wright seems to suggest is men’s instinctual inclination toward control and even violence toward women. A scene in which the couple play-act an S&M sex scene — at Rhoda’s behest — turns ugly as a reluctant Barn gets in touch with his aggressive side. At such times, Rhoda floats out of her body, letting her Stand-In take over.
The playwright clearly understands the complexity of these issues, as suggested by Rhoda’s complicity in her own ill-treatment, yet her characters lack the dimension to do justice to the ideas. Barn? Storm? Terrace? Coyote? The names might have some symbolic significance, but they’re no more rooted in the natural world, Soho or otherwise, than are the characters attached to them.
They’re stick figures designed solely to represent notions, and some of the notions are pretty trite. Men are scared little boys always searching for mother? Then why not have Barn ery “Mommy!” during one vulnerable moment?
Ariel Orr Jordan’s direction doesn’t really clarify whether such moments are satire, so audiences must assume not. The parody of an avant-garde onstage singer wordlessly vocalizing as a sort of arty/pretentious score is clearer, though nonetheless annoying.
The production boasts some fine performances, though, with Cyr, McDermott, Shanks and Hauptman plunging headlong into the dense, stylized psychobabble: “We’re all wounded responses, Barn,” Rhoda will say, Or “Talkinga is how I know I’m here.” However nicely performed, such talking makes “Floating Rhoda” little more than “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” all dressed up for a night in Tribeca.