The question posed in the title of John Patrick Shanley's 2001 play might be asked by exiting patrons who have plunked down hard-earned cash to view this unwieldy curiosity. Shanley's writing style generally falls into two categories: straightforward linear realism (Doubt) or absurdist dramedy (Beggars in the House of Plenty). Money is unclassifiable, but not in a good way. It blends elements of manic farce, caustic satire, Albee-esque marital angst, and horror-film histrionics, evoking head-scratching results. Director Rick Sparks and a talented cast valiantly attempt to bring Shanley's shrill hodgepodge into focus, but it's mostly a lost cause.
The episodic goings-on-not quite a story-start as two former friends catch up following years of separation. The ditsy Celeste (Sirena Irwin) admits to being involved with a drugged-out loser while having an S&M affair with a narcissistic married lawyer (Ian Gregory), whose marriage to fed-up Marcia (Linda Wahl) is in high-combat mode. The sardonic Natalie (Jeanine Orci) likewise has a problematic marriage with an attorney (Dean Fortunato). Lurking menacingly in the background is the ghost of Natalie's ex-flame (Eduardo Rodriguez), trying to collect on an old debt.
Sparks' solid ensemble does its best to adhere to the script's head-spinning comedic and dramatic shifts. The engaging Irwin comes off as a cross between Suzanne Somers' addlebrained Chrissy in Three's Company and a tragicomic figure-an actress with a limp whose career handicap is more psychological than physical. The bitter invective that flies furiously between Gregory and Wahl is expertly delivered, offering gut-wrenching moments. Similarly-but in a lower key-Orci and Fortunato make the most of their marital-warfare encounters. Rodriguez is suitably creepy, though this character might be more at home as one of those loopy metaphysical plot devices in a daytime soap.
One image that sprang to my mind as I considered Shanley's indulgent work on this misfired endeavor was that classic moment in his Oscar-winning Moonstruck when Cher suddenly slaps lovestruck Nicolas Cage and exclaims, "Snap out of it!"
Presented by Everybody Benefits Productions at the Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Wed.-Sat. 8 p.m. Oct. 28-Dec. 3. (323) 960-4451.