©2013 Joan Marcus
Wallace Shawn, Larry Pine and Deborah Eisenberg in “The Designated Mourner,” written by Wallace Shawn and directed by André Gregory, at the Public Theater.
Time to lament again.
Wallace Shawn’s ponderous but eventually seductive 1996 play “The Designated Mourner” has been revived at the Public Theater with the original cast and director of the 2000 New York production.
It’s a show with a high body count — but what’s really being grieved here is a dumbed-down world.
“I’m the designated mourner,” whispers Shawn, recalling Yoda, as Andre Gregory’s three-hour production begins.
He explains that some cultures appoint a keeper of memories. He then ceremoniously strikes a match and sets a scroll ablaze.
That tiny pyre stays with you because it’s wonderfully theatrical. But you also wish Shawn would light a fire under his willfully slow-moving tale.
The play unfolds in overlapping monologues. Blunt Jack (Shawn) cops to being lowbrow. He’s married to brainy Judy (Deborah Eisenberg, Shawn’s real-life partner). Her father Howard (ever-classy Larry Pine) is a towering and icy highbrow.
Just what Shawn (“The Fever,” “The Princess Bride”) is chasing only begins to take shape at the end of the 100-minute first act. In the second half, we come to see that intellectuals are in the crosshairs. That doesn’t bode well for Howard and Judy.
The all-talk-no-action affair is fortunately enlivened by Shawn’s vivid imagery of things grotesque (battered brains) and beautiful (weeping lambs).
The show’s other asset is Eisenberg’s haunted face. Even the non-“Designated” won’t soon forget it.