In her last play, the American kitchen-sink drama “Refuge,” Jessica Goldberg took a slight story about three young siblings abandoned by their parents and infused it with the flesh-and-blood feeling of life closely and painfully observed. Her follow-up, “The Hologram Theory,” is much more the work of a fantasist, with a plot so ambitious and extraordinary only the greatest of writers could create characters powerful enough to support it. Here, Goldberg’s vision woefully dwarfs her ability to realize it onstage.
Patsy (Joie Susannah Lee) leaves her home in Trinidad to search for her missing twin brother, Dominic (Michael Alexis Palmer), in Manhattan. All too soon, she discovers that the recently murdered Dominic led a double life. As a gay dance-club animal known as Shango, he befriended a cabal of drugged-out, sexually ambivalent punks who run a boy-child prostitution ring out of Harlem.
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It seems one night the crystal meth kicked in a little too early, and Dominic/Shango’s new buddies decided to kill him. And they didn’t just kill him — they cut up his body and spread it all over town, his dismembered hands kept in a silver box that they cart into their every crash pad.
A modern-day Antigone, Patsy must locate her dead brother’s every body part and bury them in one place so that her memory/vision of him will once again be complete. She finally succeeds, finding his torso on the Chelsea piers and digging his grave in what appears to be Central Park.
Maybe Sophocles could give dramatic urgency to this story. In Goldberg’s hands, the material is simply ludicrous. To her credit, Lee provokes not one giggle in her search-and-bury mission.
Director Ruben Polendo gives some shape to Goldberg’s snippets of dialogue and TV-commercial-length vignettes, drenching the lurid goings-on in snake-rattle music, swirling disco lights and enough red Mylar to make a drag queen cringe. You can almost smell the amyl nitrate wafting in from Scott Spahr and Ryan M. Mueller’s high-tech set.
“The Hologram Theory” could be dismissed as mere dimestore decadence, if not for a strange double-standard at work here: Of the four miscreants, the two hard-core queers, Joe Buck (Chris Messina) and Tweety (T.R. Knight), are damned to the ninth circle of some disco inferno. Even their hair color is particularly criminal.
The hetero Mimi (Elizabeth Reaser), however, regains the use of her legs as soon as she gives up the stinking silver box to Patsy. And sweet Julian (Daniel Bess), after having expressed revulsion at Shango’s unwanted sexual advances, finds redemption when he pleads his guilt to the investigating officer (Corey Stoll), who promptly wants to marry his long-suffering girlfriend (Jennifer Rau) in order to cleanse himself of the whole sordid ordeal. Messina and Reaser deliver performances that nearly make sense of their characters.