Eric Bogosian's new play is long on exposition and short on character and plot development. When two high-powered couples meet for a holiday vacation in a posh hideaway retreat in upstate New York, a sudden power failure turns the dull parlor games into a chilly struggle for survival.

Eric Bogosian’s new play is long on exposition and short on character and plot development. When two high-powered couples meet for a holiday vacation in a posh hideaway retreat in upstate New York, a sudden power failure turns the dull parlor games into a chilly struggle for survival. Stylish acting nearly makes the wordy confinement palatable.

Voicemail, fax machines and laptops are rendered useless, and cell phones don’t function due to the surrounding mountainous terrain. It would appear that survival is impossible without modern technology. Even the National Guard has been alerted, but apparently they are a distant and elusive comfort in the two-county crisis. The presence of an ax murderer might liven up the action, but no such luck. The blood only runs when one character cuts her finger while washing the dishes, and the incident is heightened to a far more desperate plateau than necessary.

Panic attacks govern the second act, and cabin fever runs rampant, taking a toll on the audience, too. When the power is returned, the play ends abruptly, leaving relationships strained and personal conflicts unresolved. The challenge remains for the audience to tie up loose ends, but the only thought that lingers is how these boring folk might have gotten out of their dubious dilemma.

What fuels the play is the slick work of its fine cast. The performers manage to defy the shallowness of their characters and rise above a great deal of superficial chatter. Bruce Norris is a rational Manhattan mag writer, and his brash book editor wife is acted with style by Kathryn Meisle. Patrick Fabian plays a neurotic screenwriter, and his eccentric actress mate — dubbed Spoon, a flower-child baby of the Lovin’ Spoonful generation — is played with feathery spunk by Reiko Aylesworth.

The only comfort arrives in the person of an eager-to-please handyman acted with rugged, rural charm by Michael Laurence. He can rustle up firewood and scramble eggs, subdue a hostile lodger, settle the nerves of the rattled ladies and even set a heart or two fluttering.

Director Jo Bonney (Mrs. Bogosian) has made an effort to harness the tensions of the emotionally dispossessed chums and give the play a reasonably amiable pace, but it’s not a good sign that the set — Robert Brill’s cushy reconverted barn — is more interesting and appealing than the play.

Humpty Dumpty

McCarter Theater, Princeton, N.J.; 1,075 seats; $43

Production

A McCarter Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Eric Bogosian. Directed by Jo Bonney.

Creative

Set, Robert Brill; costumes, Ann Hould-Ward; lighting, Ken Posner; sound, John Gromada; stage manager, Cheryl Mintz. Artistic director, Emily Mann. Opened, reviewed March 29, 2002. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

Cast

Nicole - Kathryn Meisle
Max - Bruce Norris
Nat - Michael Laurence
Troy - Patrick Fabian
Spoon - Reiko Aylesworth
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