The S.S. Carcass, trapped in the ice for the past seven years, is on an expedition to the North Pole. Only three of the crew remain: clownlike Bane, with his red nose and bizarrely oversized rear end; the ship's rector, Kane, who is in fact Bane's fiancée in disguise; and Israel, the mute (and Canadian) first mate. They've already eaten their dogs and are now set on cannibalizing the crew to survive. Sound like a befuddled mess? It would be except for the sheer dynamism of Dan Fogler as Bane — a whirlwind of honks, accents, and gleeful titters — and the solid backing of Kelly Hutchinson (Kane) and Noah Bean (Israel). Fogler is such a joy to watch as he commands the stage (a beautifully bizarre ship's interior designed by Wilson Chin, replete with an ark-load of props) that it's no matter that most of the rapid-fire dialogue, witty references, and pithy rejoinders whiz by before we can fully comprehend what's being said.
Like a Monty Python sketch that has reached a crescendo of absurdity and is about to collapse under its own weight of wit, a time-out is called and the scene dissolves: Now for something completely different. Turns out playwright Dan O'Brien is really going for a play within a play, and the previous setup was simply an allegory for what's going on in the actors' own lives. When Fogler loses the nose, he brings down the hilarity and is now Bill, a disgruntled actor and struggling mime who openly questions Dan (Bean), the passive-aggressive playwright. Hutchinson is Helen, Bill's wife, a former actor turned ad exec who's financing the whole endeavor as a dysfunctional attempt at couple's counseling. The masterly way in which O'Brien weaves the stories together, allowing humor and banality to seep into every crevice and fold, makes for a sumptuous bit of cultural criticism and is a lesson in the instructive power of comedy.
Presented by Thomas Sullivan and Stage 13 Productions at SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam St., NYC. Oct. 16-Nov. 5. Mon., Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (212) 691-1555 or www.sohoplayhouse.com.