Absurdity, mythology, and allegory work overtime in this play as the Marymount Manhattan Theater. Paul d'Andrea calls his mystery-comedy-fantasy "a play designed to put a stop to the 20th century." Unfortunately, his odd theatrical notions also put rather a crimp in the art of playmaking. For though its heart is in the right place and its head bravely in the clouds, "The Trouble With Europe" bogs down in its own pretension.
The play begins when the presidents of the United States and France discover simultaneously that Europe is winding down in an unprecedented energy crisis. Two mythic figures -- the legendary American cowboy (Perry King) and the quintessential French intellectual detective (Kristoffer Tabori) -- are assigned to track down the source of the trouble. After a Concorde flight to Arabia that aborts in a parachute drop over Paris, the partners find their way to the unfinished tunnel under the English Channel. Down in the deptshs of this symbolic blind alley, they confront the demons of Despair, Ideology, and Political Violence and glimpse the universal vision the cowboy has waited all his life to see.
The author's dramatic means range from wordplay to swordplay as the heroes pursue their mystical clues and confront an assortment of symbolic characters. AS usual with Phoenix Theatre production, this one is elaborately mounted, with a bizarre setting by Manuel Lutgenhorst, who also designed the costumes. Peter Nels directed the several starting fights.
The performances under Mr. Freudenberger's guidance might be called realistically metaphorical or fantastically make-believable. Messrs. King's and Tabori's snoops are more in the tradition of Clouzot than of Smiley's people, and the two actors perform accordingly. Christine Baranski proves a nettlesome foe in a variety of disguishes and displays her mastery of martial arts.
For the record, it should perhaps be mentioned that the American Theater Critics Association nominated "The Trouble With Europe" for Best Play of 1978-79 when it was produced at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. But as everyone knows, there's no accounting for critics.