Pungent Purgatory

There's a moment while you're on a roller-coaster ride, hurtling through time and space, shrieking for mercy, when you surrender to the fates and images of your meager life flash before your eyes. A moment where you feel the agony and the ecstasy collide. Where time stands still.

Well, “Paradise Park,” Charles Mee's last in a trio of multi-media fantasy plays at the Signature Theatre Company, aims to capture the essence of such gloriously horrific moments. And why not? As the cryptic experimentalist sees it, we play out such instances over and over again in our everyday lives, though we often fail to recognize them.


Signature Theatre Company

555 W. 42nd St.

Tue. at 7 p.m.; Wed.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sat, Sun at 2 p.m.

Through Apr. 6

$20-$65; 212-719-1300

Audacious and overstuffed, this production is structured as a parade of absurd, herky-jerky vignettes with titles like “Balloon Head,” “Nothing Lasts Forever,” and “Esther Williams.” The crazies who inhabit Paradise Park seem mired in a lovelorn purgatory; perhaps a more accurate title might be “Lunatic Park.”

A whacked-out romp in the rusty playground of the mind.

Located roughly on the opposite pole from the dream-fulfilled “Xanadu,” “Paradise Park” is the place where dreams go to die.

Each character has come to escape a wretched existence, and perhaps atone for a sin or two. Nancy (Veanne Cox) and Morton (Christopher Mc-Cann), who loathe each other almost as much as they loathe themselves, have brought their favorite daughter after callously abandoning their disabled problem child. Jorge (Paul Mullins), who's partial to wearing frilly underthings, is on his way to join other misfits in New York City and takes a detour.

The bright-eyed Vikram (Satya Bhabha), who wears a droopy mouse costume, has left a life of poverty to jumpstart a career as a tour guide. The woefully lost Benny (William Jackson Harper) claims he needed a break from an “abyss of total meaninglessness.”

The indefatigable Mee, pushing 70, is one of New York's most prolific playwrights, with a dozen full productions in the past five years, like “Big Love” and “Iphigenia 2.0.” As he asserts on his website, he's keen on writing plays that are “broken, jagged, filled with sharp edges, filled with things that take sudden turns, careen into each other, smash up, veer off in sickening turns.”

In that regard, this newest outing is quintessential Mee.

Only Mee can mash up scenes featuring a man getting hosed off (squirting audience members) to a Patsy Klein ditty, a square dance that ends with a head in a punch bowl, a fierce fruitcake slinging contest, a tryst inside a gigantic inflatable castle, a gay romance between a man and a puppet, and yes, a blood-curdling rollercoaster ride — and get away with it.

Oh, and did I mention “Paradise Park” boasts a bona fide ventriloquist (Alan Semok) and the virtuoso Julliard-trained accordion player, Bill Schimmel?

This nightmare might be too much to bear if it weren't for the intelligently grounded performances, guided by Daniel Fish. Cox astounds as the she-wolf of a wife seething with recrimination. And Bhabha manages to convey a heroic pride wearing that mouse suit, oddly tugging our hearts as he falls in love with the dummy.

David Zinn's set, a mini-carnival in a basement rec room crammed with balloons, a bumper car, cotton candy machine, shooting gallery, and other wonders, appears thrown together and inhospitable. I assume that's all part of the plan.

Despite the frenzy and the edgy video projections by Joshua Thorson, “Paradise Park” feels weirdly inert. While that may be appropriate to the purgatorial “there's no escaping our sucky lives” theme, for all but die-hard Mee fans, this rollercoaster moment, stretched to two hours with no intermission, may feel like an eternity.