John Guare’s latest, Lake Hollywood, is about how people’s hopes are only partially or seemingly fulfilled, which, on the evidence of this work, applies also to the playwright’s aspirations. A gifted creator of whimsical situations and droll dialogue, Guare nevertheless tends to ramble on without a strong center or a clear sense of direction. In Act One, we are (as in Cider House) in New Hampshire. It is 1940, and Agnes, 37, is bringing Andrew, 35, her equally struggling New York neighbor and hoped-for boyfriend, to the lakeside family home now usurped by her elder sister, Flo. Flo has a new husband, the teenage Randolph, who can change the direction of the wind, and an unhinged uncle, Ambrose, who dreams of turning Scroon Lake into Lake Hollywood, a fancy retreat for boozing movie stars.
There is also Randolph’s suspiciously young mother, Mrs. Larry, a round-the-clock Dietrich impersonator from Berlin, N.H. (but pretending to be from the other one), who tries to vamp Andrew. A forest fire from a Jehovah’s Witnesses campsite may engulf them all. Somebody does die, then walks on water. Clearly, six characters in search of a play.
Act Two takes place 59 years later in today’s Hell’s Kitchen, where Andrew is a janitor and Agnes, his confused wife, must enter the hospital for exploratory surgery. She is still haunted by a man who, when she was 15, tried to rape her and chased her into Scroon Lake. A large credenza that nobody wants assumes a key role, and there is much more, adding up to less. The Signature Theatre production is accomplished, and most of the acting is fine, though no one looks aged 95 or 97. Two directors are credited, perhaps pulling in opposite directions. And what, I wonder, about the New Hampshire air elicits such loony excesses in two works?