'In Pepetuity Throughout the Universe' by Eric Overmyer Opens Off- Broadway
Jun. 21, 1988
NEW YORK (AP) _ Paranoia produces profits in the dark, dangerous world created by Eric Overmyer's ''In Perpetuity Throughout the Universe,'' a strange, sinister comedy that arrived over the weekend at off-Broadway's Hudson Guild Theater.
Much of it is set in a lunatic-fringe publishing house whose owner collects what she calls conspiracy theorists of the left and right - the kind of authors who believe Jimmy Hoffa is alive and well and living in Brazil, or who whisper that the Catholic Church killed Abraham Lincoln or who write books about Washington D.C. and refer to it as the Zionist Occupation Government.
The title of the play comes from book-contract lingo, having to do with the publishing rights being wrapped up ''in perpetuity throughout the universe.''
Overmyer is a dazzling verbal acrobat as well as a serious student of pop culture. Both linguist and cultural anthropologist get a workout here. The play's language is sly and sharp, and the comedy a mixture and appreciation of high and low brow. Sort of like Tom Stoppard meets TV Guide.
The heroes of ''In Perpetuity Throughout the Universe'' are the ghostwriters employed to turn the crazy, conspiratorial ideas into best sellers. The play focuses on three of these editors, particularly a young woman named Christine who has been hired to incorporate anti-Asian propaganda into a fictional potboiler called ''Yellow Emperor: the New Fu Manchu.''
Christine's Chinese boyfriend, Dennis Wu, also works for this publishing house. They spend their off-hours playing ''list'' games - people they would kill after the revolution, such as landlords, mimes and Andrew Lloyd Webber; famous B movies like ''Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill'', or the names of people who have disappeared but may not be gone, like Hoffa or D.B. Cooper.
Dennis also becomes Christine's fantasy as she dreams about the novel she is ghostwriting and conjures up the Fu Manchu of movie fame, the familiar villain with long red nails and sneering smile.
Another editor, an intense man named Lyle Vial, is obsessed by chain letters that threaten doom for anyone who breaks the chain. It is the ultimate paranoia. Vial at last discovers the first chain letter, written during the Norman invasion of England, and what happened to such medieval doubters as Thomas the Confessor when they interrupted its good luck.
There is a serious underpinning to all of Overmyer's high and low-flying wit. It's expressed by Dennis in several speeches about his past and his Chinese heritage which has either been ignored or disparaged by the white man.
Most of the cast has been able to negotiate Overmyer's difficult script. Particularly successful are Carolyn McCormick as the ghostwriter who develops a conscience and Arthur Hanket as the chain-letter freak.
Director Stan Wojewodski Jr. of Baltimore's Center Stage has given the play a fluid, cinematic feeling as the short scenes blend quickly into each other. The cold, hard-edged setting by Christopher Barreca mirrors the play's strange, chilly world, an environment harshly but appropriately lighted by Stephen Strawbridge.
In ''On the Verge,'' Overmyer's most successful play, three Victorian ladies begin an exhilarating journey through time and space that eventually brings them to the Brave New World of 1955. The three editors in this play travel, too, but they are on a darker expedition, probing the fears and prejudices of society. Overmyer makes it a wild, unnerving ride.