Halfway through the self-styled comedy-thriller “The Summer House,” Will (Will Adamsdale) and Matt (Matthew Steer) find themselves amiably drunk on a bachelor-party weekend in Iceland, in a private hot tub with plenty of beer: Things could be worse. And, wouldn’t you know it, they suddenly are. Realizing they’re stranded with Neil (Neil Haigh), who is not what he seems, our two not-so-Alpha males — and the play — leap into overdrive. Funny and pulse-quickening though the tonal shift is, it reveals the slackness surrounding it.From here on in, events spiral darkly into anarchy; imagine “Fargo” remade by Judd Apatow and you’re almost there. Cheerfully ludicrous though the twists are — all imaginatively played with little set and less naturalism — the plot is not the chief concern. The writers/performers are much more interested in putting male behavior under a microscope, as befits groom-to-be Will and best man Matt, who are both thirtysomething doctors. Addicted to Bob Dylan, they are more than faintly nerdy and amusingly self-obsessed. Neil, too, falls in with the prevailing mood, and everyone’s constant friendly jockeying for position is amusingly adolescent but also charmingly recognizable. As is to be expected from a show wholly devised by its actors, plus director John Wright, “The Summer House” scores on the seeming ease of its performers. What’s not expected are the Vikings. Yes, the narrative keeps getting dropped in order to present the three actors as Vikings, arguing with Norse gods. These scenes are wittily and minimally staged with cloaks of plastic sheeting, a horned helmet and a leaf blower. But although they’re intended to provide a thematic parallel between ancient male behavior and that of modern men, they almost immediately overstay their welcome and loosen the audience’s connection with the main action. The more the play attempts to raise the stakes in the final third, the flimsier it grows. The amusement of seeing navel-gazing male anxieties skewered notwithstanding, the chief pleasure comes from helmer Wright’s handling of the performers, all of whom can deadpan with the best. There’s sweetly childlike pleasure to be had from, say, the actors’ own comic sound effects for the beautifully mimed glass door, and their silent rage when shut out of the action. But the highpoints of this fitful mayhem show that the overall lack of stylistic cohesion keeps audiences slightly shut out, too.
Gate Theater, London; 80 seats; £20, $32 top
A Fuel in association with the Gate Theater presentation of a play in one act devised by Will Adamsdale, Neil Haigh, Matthew Steer, John Wright. Directed by John Wright.
Sets and costumes, Michael Vale; lighting, Ian Scott; sound and music, Chris Branch; production stage manager, Jeremy Walker. Opened March 1, 2012. Reviewed March 3. Running time: 1 HOUR, 35 MIN.
With: Will Adamsdale, Neil Haigh, Matthew Steer.