Mike Leigh's fiercely comic "Goose-Pimples" abounds in non-sequiturs, warped logic and sexual innuendo. With the menacing undercurrent of a dinner party gone sour, the farce (written in 1981, 15 years before the playwright had his mass-audience film breakthrough with "Secrets & Lies") reveals Leigh's dark and daunting edge. The actors skillfully spew a barrage of abrasive exchanges and engage in some raucous knockabout physical encounters. Story is set in a London suburb in the early 1980s, when the ambitious working-class car salesman and confirmed bachelor Vernon (Sam Rockwell) invites nerdish colleague Irving (Max Baker) and his sexually charged wife, Frankie (Gillian Foss), over for a quiet dinner. When the steaks in the fridge are discovered to be spoiled, the trio opts to eat out.

Enter Vernon’s lodger, Jackie (Caroline Seymour), a somewhat ditsy and very naive Soho gambling croupier, who brings home a man she mistakenly believes is a Middle Eastern oil sheik. The non-English-speaking Muhammad (Adam Alexi-Malle) is in reality a sheep farmer who thinks he has been brought to a brothel. When Vernon and his guests return, the attempt to communicate with the perplexed Arab turns small talk into a hilarious game of charades.

Various infidelities and miscommunications lead to an explosive melee fueled by irreverent humor that can best be described in current terms as politically incorrect.

Alexi-Malle superbly fuses expressive body language and fractured English into some very funny business as the misplaced foreigner. Baker’s absurdly conceited swagger and incessant cackling defines Irving as a world-class loser, and Seymour adds a sweet vulnerability to the susceptible Jackie.

Leigh’s play is a neatly structured romp, and director Scott Elliott has braced it with a frantic pace that explodes with sudden fury (the playwright and director last collaborated on the acclaimed “Ecstasy”). Kevin Price’s bachelor-pad set, with its seductive leopard-skin colors, is properly plush and tasteless.

Goose-Pimples

New York

Production

A New Group presentation of play in two acts by Mike Leigh. Directed by Scott Elliott. Set, Kevin Price.

Creative

Costumes, Eric Becker; lighting, Jan Kroeze; sound, Raymond D. Schilke; music, Tom Kochan; stage manager, John Harmon. Artistic director, Elliott. Opened Dec. 18, 1997, at the Judith Anderson Theater. Reviewed Dec. 16; 95 seats; $30 top. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Cast

Cast: Sam Rockwell (Vernon), Caroline Seymour (Jackie), Max Baker (Irving), Gillian Foss (Frankie), Adam Alexi-Malle (Muhammad).
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