As in her 2007 play "God's Ear," about parents unable to cope with the loss of a child, here daily events veer into dreamlike scenes, and characters spout nonsensical-sounding yet evocative dialogue. Fragmented, often humorous speech combines non-sequiturs with cliches, rhymes and half-remembered phrases to create a haunting reflection of inner anguish.
The stellar cast on display at the Vineyard Theatre fluently voices Schwartz's imaginative linguistics. Kate Mulgrew and Kathleen Chalfant lead an ensemble crisply directed by Anne Kauffman on Marsha Ginsberg's set that easily transforms from normal settings into surrealism.
Familial regrets float through the dialogue like sad, omnipresent clouds. One character mysteriously melts to death, while one is casually referred to as faceless. Memories become metaphors, as two 8-year-old children pop on and off the stage in their respective mothers' fond recollections brought to life.
As lonely, middle-aged realtor Rosemary Rappaport, Mulgrew gives a bravura performance. Briskly oblivious to others, Rosemary prattles on in barely controlled hysteria about herself and her estranged adult son, Benjamin (adeptly portrayed by Greg Keller.) A chance encounter with an old friend, played by Chalfant, sets her off down a crazed version of memory lane, and she comes fairly unhinged over a restaurant meal while semi-bullying another friend, (Mary Shultz, sweetly self-effacing in the first act).
Chalfant is first seen imperiously on parade in a wheelchair, which might as well be a throne, given her grande dame persona as Evelyn Armstrong, a wealthy society matron with end-stage cancer. Chalfant declaims magnificently from a hospice bed throughout the second act, tossing off Evelyn's morphine-drip-fueled, darkly funny and moving dialogue with grace and charm.
Shultz displays her dizzier range in Act 2, as Cecelia deals with grief by unspooling a lengthy, absurdist monologue that includes the telling comment, "Isn't time funny?/As in tragic?" Maria Elena Ramirez provides bemused support as Lolita, Evelyn's loyal caregiver. Brooke Bloom artfully creates several different characters, and Richard Bekins is effectively uncaring as Evelyn's emotionally remote husband.
More than one person declares, "If you can't laugh at yourself, someone else will do it for you." Kauffman's stylish production is a perfect showcase for Schwartz's unique way of communicating how humor may inform and illuminate the messy, contradictory human condition.