Review: ‘The Enchanted Maze’

As an exercise in allegorical play writing, Murphy Guyer's fastpaced and intellectual farce is clever and intermittently amusing. But "The Enchanted Maze" is a surprising, and ultimately inadequate, mainstage offering from a regional house with an auspicious history of presenting strong new American work. Delightful visuals from designer Pavel Dobrusky cannot save the evening: This immature play quickly becomes lost in a hopelessly esoteric world of its own making.

As an exercise in allegorical play writing, Murphy Guyer’s fastpaced and intellectual farce is clever and intermittently amusing. But “The Enchanted Maze” is a surprising, and ultimately inadequate, mainstage offering from a regional house with an auspicious history of presenting strong new American work. Delightful visuals from designer Pavel Dobrusky cannot save the evening: This immature play quickly becomes lost in a hopelessly esoteric world of its own making.

Guyer’s main problem here is one that has bedeviled writers of allegory from the anonymous scribe of “Everyman” through Arthur Miller: The events of the drama are interesting until the audience has figured out what everything represents. At the point, the playwright needs to introduce meaningful plot complications that can stand alone, rather than continue to bash us over the head with the same allegorical connections. And that’s where “Enchanted Maze” starts going around in circles.

Initially, Guyer creates an interesting and whimsical world. Entering a theater seemingly overgrown with Dobrusky’s splendid hedges, the audience encounters a character named Avery Adamson (Perry Laylon Ojeda), who is looking for the center of the maze in which he finds himself.

Various other people show up and offer their own guidebooks to the puzzle. We meet a cheming populist politican (well played by Guyer himself) who claims that his militaristic ideas are the only way to the center. Others proffering advice include Nancy Franklin as a religious fanatic named Gladys Doomcracker (ticket names are [7mderigueur [22;27mhere), a loony fellow who represents science, an effete artist, a blue-collar worker and an intellectual who is writing a critical guide to a guide to other’s people’s guidebooks (“Someone has to do it, ” he mutters amusingly.).

To no one’s surprise, Adamson discovers in act two that there is no center to the maze, but only theories. He asks for the owner, but people doubt he even exists.

Horrified, Adamson finds a ladder and tries to escape, but outside there are only other mazes. Finally, he decides to fall in love with an available young woman and forget about finding the center. And the audience finally gets to go home.

There are some funny Pythonesque shenanigans along the way, courtesy of several strong character actors. Guyer demonstrates a gift for one-liners; you can tell he cut his teeth on sketch comedy. And director Peter Hackett has staged one inspired piece of lunacy in which we watch a war by seeing the frenzied movement of balloons on sticks above the hedges.

But Guyer’s central character (poorly played by Ojeda) is a sad version of mankind: He’s a whiny, bizarre and tiresome fellow. That makes it hard to give a hoot about his predicament, and, as a result, there is no way for the audience to become fully involved in the events of the play.

And for all its supposedly farcical style, “The Enchanted Maze” offers no belly laughs. The creators of this show were trapped by their own clevernes.

The Enchanted Maze

Production

CLEVELAND A Cleveland Play House presentation of a play in two acts by Murphy Guyer. Directed by Peter Hackett.

Crew

Sets, costumes, lighting, Pavel Dobrusky; sound, Robin Heath; production stage manager, Josh Friedman; casting, Pat McCorkle/Richard Cole. Opened Jan. 27, 1996, at the Play House/Drury Theater. Reviewed Jan. 28; 502 seats; $ 34 top. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

With

Cast: Donald Christopher (The Old Man), Perry Laylon Ojeda (Avery Adamson), Murphy Guyer (Kingsley Commoner), Mike Hartman (Gus Woolly), Kay Walbye (Sincerity McLavish), Donald Berman (Atticus Garrett), Rebecca Waxman (Rebecca Kind), Michael Connor (Leander Plummet), Nancy Franklin (Gladys Doomeracker), Allana Janell Romansky (Little Girl), John R. Magaro (Little Boy), Donald Christopher (Victor Boson), Evan Thompson (Berkeley Malison).
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