A Hotel on Marvin Gardens, by Nagle Jackson, is an odd little play. It wants to be a farce, with comic blunders, melodramatic bursts and absurd coincidences. The very plot smacks of screwball comedy: A mega-rich businesswoman, KC, invites her underlings to play Monopoly on her private island every April Fool's Day. But KC's guests don't share her obsession. Couples pair off for discreet trysts, a thunderstorm (naturally) moves in, and the ferry (of course) is marooned.
But Marvin Gardens, now playing at South Park Theatre, is also a bitter story of wealth and class struggle, and as their pieces move around the Monopoly board, the players reveal their crosses. The game comprises several scenes but is played in real time, and the burbling agony is almost photo-realistic. We have all been trapped in such games, and we have all met the boastful player (Erna), the self-sabotaging player (Bo), the player who sees metaphor in every move (Henry), and the tyrannical player who must win at all costs (KC). Misery, it turns out, does not always love company.
Ideally, director Bob Scott would have a bleak, unsettling production of Marvin Gardens, preferring pathos to charade. His actors are remarkably gifted, and they generally fit their roles, excepting Laura Fergusen, who, as Erna, doesn't look remotely 40, or even 30. Pretending to play a complicated table game is nearly as difficult as controlling a live animal onstage, and this small cast rises to the task. They perform on a detailed and beautiful set, designed by Kevin Kocher, a real feat for South Park. This should be a solid community production.
The problem, in part, is the theater itself, which swallows sound like a cave made of mattresses. To sit in a middle row is to sit in expectant silence; I could hear the sputtering oxygen tank of a nearby patron better than the play's performers. Instead of projecting, they submit to the vacuum, and the punchlines have no, well, punch. Twice the volume and triple the speed would make for a fine show. Instead, we watch four people quietly play a game. We want to pass Go, but we're all stuck in Jail.
A HOTEL ON MARVIN GARDENS continues through July 16. South Park Theatre, Corrigan Drive and Brownsville Road, South Park. 412-831-8552 or www.southparktheatre.com