Theater review: ‘Grasses of a Thousand Colors’ — 2 stars

Hakeem Nicks could be the next big-name player on the move.
Hakeem Nicks could be the next big-name player on the move. Photo Credit: Getty/Andrew Burton

Grasses of a

Thousand Colors

Just in case one long Wallace Shawn play wasn’t enough for all the brave experimental theater aficionados out there, the Public Theater and Theatre for a New Audience, which co-produced a revival of Shawn’s “The Designated Mourner” this summer, now present the New York premiere of his new work “Grasses of a Thousand Colors.”

Shawn, who appeared in “The Designated Mourner” as a sort of narrator, takes on a similar role in “Grasses of a Thousand Colors” alongside Jennifer Tilly, Julie Hagerty and Emily Cass McDonnell, who play his various lovers. André Gregory, who staged “The Designated Mourner,” returns as director.

The three-act play, which runs roughly 31/2 hours in length, is a strange mix of ecology, food science, Armageddon and the sort of smutty writing you’d find in “Penthouse Forum.”

Shawn plays a doctor who stumbles upon what appears to be a cure for world hunger through outright cannibalism, chemically altering the eating habits of animals so that they will eat their own kind.

Whereas Act One is concerned with science, Act Two focuses on the character’s sexual activities with his mistresses, his preoccupation with a house cat and his turbulent stomach pain. In Act Three, with Shawn on the verge of death, he learns that his discovery has ultimately destroyed the world.

Shawn’s one-of-a-kind voice and stage presence, combined with Tilly’s own raspy voice and buxom figure, can be relied upon for providing a good deal of amusement. And he deserves credit for tackling a good deal of social matters.

That being said, the play is an insane, disturbing, never-ending mess that is likely to test the patience of even Shawn’s biggest supporters. Has he considered cutting most — if not all — of the gratuitous sex and making the play into a 90-minute one-man show?