‘Evening at the Talk House’ suffers from slow pacing

As the title suggests, “Evening at the Talk House” is a talky sort of play.

“You look disoriented,” actor Larry Pine said to me as I entered the theater and took in the unusual preshow setup for Wallace Shawn’s new play “Evening at the Talk House,” in which the performers mingle with audience members and sweets (including marshmallows and gummy bears) are served on trays.

Ever wanted to tell Shawn (who appears in the play) that you’re a fan of “Clueless”? This is your chance. Even Matthew Broderick eventually materializes. But then the play begins, and it is downhill from there.

Set at an old-fashioned, classy-looking club operated by Nellie (Jill Eikenberry), the cast of a flop play written years ago by Robert (Broderick) has assembled for a reunion. Among them is Dick (Shawn), a once successful actor turned bitter and unstable alcoholic.

Scott Elliott’s production is a laid back, intimate affair with little movement and dim lighting — and eventually no lighting at all. The audience is divided into two sections facing opposite each other.

As the title suggests, “Evening at the Talk House” is a talky sort of play, depending more on drifting cocktail conversation, rueful rumination on the death of theater and self-pitying confessions than plot or conflict. It even begins with Broderick delivering a long expository monologue to the audience.

About halfway through, the dialogue becomes increasingly strange and there is mention of a government sanctioned “program of murdering.” “I worked as a murderer for the ‘Special Areas Project’ for three or four years,” one character says. It’s as if Shawn sensed the play was becoming a bore and responded with a dystopian twist.

A handful of moments are interesting, such as when the soft and aloof Broderick interacts with the aggressive Shawn or the vivacious Claudia Shear, but it’s a challenge to stay engaged with this slow-moving, maudlin and ultimately bewildering piece.

If you go: “Evening at the Talk House” runs through March 12 at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St. thenewgroup.org.

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