Is there anything left worth believing in? With biting humor at a breakneck pace, Word Monger Productions presents Brian Parks's snarky play Goner, an expertly produced delight guaranteed to make you question your allegiances, whether they be medical, governmental, or cinematic. It's easy enough to poke fun at government these days, but Parks's clever script puts an inept president into the hands of three even more inept surgeons at a hospital. Even if you don't believe in government, you might still have some faith in medicine. But if you pay attention to Goner, you won't for long.
Dr. Hoyt Schermerhorn (Jody Lambert) is the new guy at the hospital, and he struggles to get to know his colleagues. The wiry Dr. Ecorse Southgate (Matt Oberg) is a glockenspiel master who has recently designed Chemotherapy Barbie (yes, she vomits and her hair falls out). And Dr. Warren Wyandotte (David Calvitto), the head of surgery, gazes into his daughter Wixom's mouth to determine if she is pregnant, proclaiming, "What's a father doctor for, if not free gynecology?"
When President Waterford Novi (Bill Coelius) is shot in an assassination attempt, he is transported to the hospital, where the doctors wait until he is stable enough for an operation. The comic buildup to the operation grows in manic intensity, punctuated by the exploits of two FBI agents (Leslie Farrell and Patrick Frederic).
A clever subplot charts the budding romance between newcomer Hoyt and Wixom (Jona Tuck), who works as a lab technician. Pushed by her father to become a doctor, Wixom instead dons a beret and becomes an "artist." She decides to make a documentary about black people (whose oppression she has newly discovered), and her wide-eyed enthusiasm and blatant lack of knowledge indict the warped sense of righteousness taken on by many a filmmaker.
It is to Parks's credit that he manages to extend his critique from medicine and government to the realm of film as well. After all, why dismiss President Bush only to blindly follow Michael Moore? Goner ably questions unqualified loyalty to any one thing, medical or otherwise.
John Clancy has directed a superbly well-oiled production, and the actors move through the show with astonishing vocal dexterity. The high-speed pace calls for veritable linguistic gymnastics, and the actors don't miss a beat, thanks also to the impeccable precision of Eric Southern's lighting. My only complaint was that the hourlong show sometimes skimmed through its substantial material so quickly that several high-quality jokes were either unintelligible or barely touched upon.
As the surgical trio, Calvitto, Lambert, and Oberg make a thrilling comic team, whether they are attempting to operate or harmonizing to a heart monitor. Tuck is very engaging as Wixom, and she offers a surprisingly winning monologue about analyzing stool samples (as a "chef in reverse"). Coelius's unshakable deadpan as the president makes us love to distrust him, and Farrell and Frederic are splendid as the FBI agents and in assorted other roles.
A zippy, absurdist comedy in the tradition of Christopher Durang and Urinetown, Goner played to positive notices at the 2005 Edinburgh Festival, and New Yorkers are now lucky to find it stateside. Apparently there are idiots everywhere, whether you believe in them or not. But wherever you choose to pledge your allegiance, Goner suggests it's much safer to laugh at the idiots than to take them too seriously.