The well-known playwright and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley (Savage in Limbo, Moonstruck, Doubt) has many lesser-known works in his canon, and the brand-new Animus Theatre Company has revived a decade-old example in a spirited and well-played production at the Cherry Lane. In the savagely witty ghost comedy Where’s My Money? elements of horror punctuate a clamorous story of characters desperately searching, not so much for anything so ambitious as love, but simply for a place where they might feel like they belong. “I don’t want to live an idea instead of a life.”
Nonetheless, marriage is the murky medium through which the characters battle one another and themselves, especially the marriage of divorce lawyer Henry (an acidic Jonathan Judge-Russo) and frustrated accountant Natalie (a very winning Amy Northup). Theirs is clearly a terrible marriage, so much so that a late note of hope for it induces a wince of disbelief even as it gives you a small warm feeling. Henry is so sarcastic and emotionally cold that it’s a little hard to understand why Natalie married him, especially after the tongue-lashing she gives her old co-worker Celeste for allowing a brutish married man to dominate her.
But as the play progresses it becomes clear that these characters aren’t meant to be real people, in spite of Shanley’s characteristically superb, psychologically authentic dialogue. They’re totems, emblems of the eternal messes we humans make of our lives. Likewise, the ghosts are here to remind us that “The past – is real” (as one character declares when told “This thing is in the past.”)
Jeff Tedesco is brute force personified as Sidney, Henry’s legal idol and a man who professes to have all the answers, for example, that since everyone cheats, a man’s duty is to be the first one to do so. Sidney turns out to be just as much at a loss as anyone when his wife Marcia Marie (the intense Carrie Walsh in a frightening turn) confronts him with his own rather titanic failures as a husband.
Often very funny, sustained by consistently riveting dialogue, Where’s My Money? as directed by Alex Correia (assistant director to Andrei Belgrader in the recent Cherry Orchard at Classic Stage) fulfills the cliche of thrills and chills. Nods are due the effective sound and lighting (Toby Algya and Jimmy Lawlor respectively) and the low-key but very adaptable and convincing set by Joseph Croghan. This highly recommended smashing debut for Animus runs through Feb. 12 at the Cherry Lane.