Pity the poor, rich Manhattan literati within seduction distance, or at least bon mot range, of artistic celebrities. Weep for the poor, talent-unencumbered artists and writers themselves, who perform the genteel gavotte of aspiration with such hangers-on. The Maderati, by Richard Greenberg, is being performed by Burbage Theatre Company (through May 7), and the farcical fun, directed by Alex Duckworth, keeps flowing like so-so champagne.
Several couples, some permanent and some temporary, take turns trotting forth to impress us with their sad pretentiousness. First we meet Chuck and Rena DeButts (Tobias Wilson and Dani Cameron). The morning after they threw a successful party, one of the first things she says, searching for le mot juste, is: "The glitterati were as thick as porterhouse steaks." Eventually we will meet some of these meatheads. Their friends are squalls, she observes, and they themselves are "lofted in the wind" of their troubled lives.
Rena is of the sensible sort, but while Chuck admires that she's the soul of sanity, she would rather be a more colorful character. By contrast, he is a dull, neurotic stockbroker. Their friend Charlotte Ebbinger (Kelli Noonan) has been tossed into the looney bin, as Rena sensitively puts it, after acting out her mad, unrequited love for a prominent editor, Martin Royale (Nicholas Thibeault). In the admission interview, Charlotte made the mistake of saying that her hobby was writing suicide notes, so she might be there a while.
If Chuck is a foundering nervous wreck, Ritt Overlander (Andrew Iacovelli) is the Titanic, whimpering over "this horrible sickness of being alive" to the point that "sometimes my hair disgusts me." His wife Dewy (Valerie Westgate) is oblivious to his suffering and to anything she doesn't want to hear. On the phone, she badgers an increasingly annoyed Martin to say he respects and loves them back. Exasperated, he eventually shouts the words she wants and hangs up, whereupon Dewy is touched. "I never knew that," she coos.
Most of the relationships here involve unrequited love. For example, Charlotte is smitten by an unresponsive Martin, whom Thibeault has a grand time making into a blowhard deflated by realizing he's a fraud. Charlotte in turn is amorously pestered by Keene Esterhazy (Kevin Broccoli), who is wealthy enough to remain a talentless poet who couldn't come up with a cogent metaphor with a gun to his head. He's annoyed that he keeps writing things that other poets have written versions of before ("How do I love thee? Let me think"). For a sight gag bonus, he's also a narcoleptic, so more than his poems end abruptly.
By the time we meet Charlotte, whom Noonan plays with energetic skill, everyone else has demonstrated themselves to be far crazier than they thought she was at the mental hospital. The one exception, unless laid-back narcissism is a psychosis, is Danton Young (Jeff Church), who in the words of Ritt is "the evil apex to all of our triangles." When we first see him, he is unconscious on the floor. Above him is a furious Russian with the wonderfully oxymoronic name Cuddles Molotov, whom Emily Lewis gives a deliciously hot-headed verve.