A self-consciously contemporary black comedy loaded with cell phones, inspired by the 15th century play “Everyman” by Anonymous, “Ciao!” was submitted anonymously to the Barrington Stage Co., whose management continues to insist that it doesn’t know who wrote it. On the evidence of the script and the playwright’s choice of anonymity, he or she is something of a smart ass. But then he or she is writing about a smart ass, a 52-year-old multimillionaire New York investment analyst named Arthur Allman (get it?) who is, to quote the play, “an asshole.” Trouble is, why should anyone give a damn about Allman, a sarcastic, cynical, self-centered jerk who is copulating with his best friend’s wife and only adding to the world’s misery, to quote the play again.
Though briskly and professionally written, with snappy, laughter-inducing one-liners, “Ciao!” never really convinces that it has a reason for existing.
In the first scene, after mistakenly being told he’s fine by his HMO-hating doctor, Allman (David Rasche) learns that he has Hodgkin’s lymphoma and has only months to live. Multiple quick scenes, including audience interaction, make up the play, though scenes don’t really hang together and the blackouts between them cry out for commercials.
Within the script’s limitations, which include shallow philosophizing, the cast and director Julianne Boyd do well, and scenic designer Matthew Maraffi has given the production an apt, sleekly minimalist look by starting with a gleamingly empty stage that suggests a blue-sky heaven and then dressing it for the play’s varied venues, which even include the L.A. Zoo, with swiftly changed furniture and props.
It’s questionable how much Allman’s direct interaction with the audience adds to the proceedings as he tells them he’s an “equal-opportunity agnostic,” rants against religions and suggests they “ignore the pope, the Catholics do.” At one point, he makes up a list of things he wants to do before he dies: chief among them eating as many lobsters and sleeping with as many hookers as he can, both with a tub of butter.
Later there’s a revealing reference to “the maharishi Woody Allen,” someone Anonymous seems to be trying to emulate. Still later, and highly questionably, Anonymous brings on the angel from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” to rate Allman’s life before he dies of either the heart attack he’s had or his lymphoma. There’s precious little on his plus side, and the play ends with his death, his last word being the title.
Rasche portrays Allman with panache, not least when he’s called on partially to ad-lib in his give-and-take with the audience. And Joanna Glushak and Michael Countryman play, with generosity and skill, an endless number of roles, often with the help of different wigs. Glushak is Allman’s assistant, his best friend’s wife, his ex-spouse, his first girlfriend, a cheerfully suicidal patient, a nurse, a volunteer at a yoga center, etc. Countryman is several doctors, Allman’s best friend, a physical trainer, the angel, etc.
Boyd’s staging keeps things moving, though neither she nor the cast can always prevent the play from sagging during between-scene blackouts. As it is, the voids are filled by relentlessly upbeat pop songs, many of them the ones Allman loathed when young.
In an email to “Boyd and Company,” Anonymous wrote that he or she hopes the BSC will continue to produce new plays “that can provoke discussion about important, contemporary issues and reach out to a younger audience that will soon be theater’s lifeblood.” No one can quibble with those sentiments, but “Ciao!” doesn’t fit the bill.