Playwright Terrence McNally (Master Class, Golden Age) continues his love affair with backstage stories, but this time with diminishing returns. And Away We Go, playing at Off Broadway's Pearl Theatre Company, is a mystifyingly schizophrenic new play about theater troupes through the ages, in which every lumbering scene seems to boil down to one of two capital-P Points: Theater is Always in Trouble or Theater Fills the Soul.
In a grand backstage set which scenic designer Sandra Goldmark has appealingly filled in with eye-filling props, costumes, and masks (by far the most memorable part of the evening), a ragtag cast and crew suffers for their art in various eras, including post-Marivaux France or Chekhov-era Russia. In one scene, an offstage Bert Lahr is stuck performing Waiting For Godot at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in 1950s Florida before crowds not quite ready for the heady Samuel Beckett. The narrative time jumps are so inelegantly conceived that every scene seems to blot sloppily into another. Even gifted director Jack Cummings III, who has achieved indelible site-specific work for NYC's Transport Group in The Boys in the Band and Hello Again, seems to be at a total loss of how to make sense of the material.
The cast is similarly all over the place, save for the Pearl's resident James Mason soundalike, Sean McNall. He thankfully resists the poorer impulses of his costars, mostly screechy hams fumbling with McNally's thudding text (sample line: ''O brave new...what's the line again?'') At one point, one of the player utters the telling line: ''Never blame the audience, they're doing their best.'' Well, I sure was. Can't say the same for the people responsible for And Away We Go. D+