Author: Kiley, Brendan
Date published: April 20, 2011
Something to Love
Even Though That Thing Is the Rotting Brain of a Long-Dead Goat
What an odd and lovely script Glen Berger has written in O Lovely Glowworm, or Scenes of Great Beauty, which premiered in Portland in 2004 and is now playing at the Erickson Theater Off Broadway. The dialogue is both lyrical and punchy; it reads like it was written by James Joyce and Groucho Marx while they were cracking each other up somewhere in heaven. Even at the 150-minute mark, its loopy language and fractured plot bounce along with a relentless charm. It's a supremely odd show, one with fisticuffs, mermaids, lakes, love triangles, war-buddy ethical dilemmas, and soap. Lots of soap. Sometimes a mermaid is sitting on a bar of soap in the middle of a lake while the love-triangle/war-buddy fisticuffs whirl on the shore nearby.
Summarizing the play's kaleidoscopic contents would be a challenge (and futile, since the narrative arc is a puzzle that is best enjoyed in the experience), so I'll let Berger's introductory stage directions do the talking. The play begins inside the imagination of a dead goat who is revived into life by a mysterious, severe pain and tries to alleviate it by distracting himself with his imagination.
As the GOAT spent nearly all of his morerobust life tethered to a post near a rubbish heap by a cottage outside Dublin between 1910 and 1924, his memories and the inspirations for his "scenes of great beauty" (i.e., his "inner world") should be confined to that place and period.
Berger's notes are too modest-his script is "confined" to neither place nor period. It ranges from the battlefields of World War I (where one military MP, played by Peter Dylan O'Connor, searches for his AWOL friend, played by MJ Sieber) to a living room where a murderous mermaid (Jennifer Lee Taylor) tries to shave the neck of her man (O'Connor) without slitting his throat. (She has trouble doing so, and the effect is pure comedy.) All the while, the dying goat stands in the background, occasionally calling out to the titular glowworm or to a soldier or to a mermaid. Sounds like nonsense, right? But it's poetic, epically weird nonsense that congeals into a thing of great beauty.