Until you’ve seen The Singing Forest, you can’t believe anyone would be nuts enough to write an epic farce about families riven by misunderstanding and mistrust, the benefits and limits of psychotherapy, and the lingering scars of the Holocaust. And did I mention the elderly former psychiatrist turned phone-sex operator who can’t help blurring the line between the two disciplines?
But Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss, The Light in the Piazza) makes it all seem nearly normal and, ultimately, moving: He cares about his characters enough to give them shape and shading, and he cares about his audience enough not to club them with his cleverness. Olympia Dukakis, in a sharp-edged but subtle performance, plays Loë, a misanthropic matriarch who’s long been estranged from her two children, Oliver (Mark Blum)—a shrink, like his mother—and Bertha (Deborah Offner), a widower whose ultrarich husband died under mysterious circumstances and whose own son, Jules (Louis Cancelmi), has become an eccentric recluse. Jules is so skittish he can’t even face psychotherapy, and so, Cyrano-style, he hires an actor, Gray (Jonathan Groff), to lie on the couch for him. Eventually, Sigmund Freud (Pierre Epstein) shows up in the flesh, but never mind that for now. This is an ambitious, gangly work, spanning decades and exploring thorny questions about gay identity and even thornier ones about human identity. Sometimes you wish Lucas hadn’t tried to pack so much in—he’s juggling so many ideas that some of them emerge only as murky, indistinct silhouettes. But director Mark Wing-Davey deftly guides us through the mishegoss, and in the end the expansiveness of the material works in its favor. Leave it to someone else to write small, intimate, tasteful plays about the complexity of relationships; Lucas prefers the crazy spectacle.
The Singing Forest
At the Public Theater through May 17