In “Act One: The Road” (Buñuel’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”), surrealist incidents prevent the party from satisfying their appetites. A “Cafe Everything” ran out of food; the next restaurant has weeping waiters holding a wake for a dead chef (his corpse spread out on a dining table in among the show’s first laid-out shocks); and a third restaurant serves fake food. And that’s glossing over other oddities in between. Outside, war gunfire punctures the air (sound design by Tom Gibbons), and Fritz has “the revolution” on speed dial and schemes to cue it into the brunch room.
The thrill of this Buñuel-based musical is how so little is explained, leaving riddles for the audience that could hit various wavelengths. It’s a roadmap that director Joe Mantello (“Wicked” and “The Grey House”) draws out through striking portends (with Sam Pinkleton’s purposefully repetitious travel choreography). New players, like Francois Battiste’s Colonel Martin, drop in. In his magnetic role of the “Soldier,” Jin Ha joins the party with a sustained number about a bizarre dream involving sheep and a brief shattering of the fourth wall. Subsequently, a heaven-sent David Hyde Pierce bubbles the stage with his charms as the klutzy Bishop who is looking for a job — even a gardening position — to feel useful.
Underneath Natasha Katz’s lighting, David Zinn’s set designs lay bare the abstract intrigues through variants of art styles. Across the Sondheimic plink-pla-plink (orchestrated by Sondheim collaborator, Jonathan Tunick), Zinn’s costumes also sing their own songs about the cast’s respective idiosyncrasies, from Fritz’s militant plaid shorts, to the burgundy tracksuit of Cannavale’s Leo, to the satin chic of Claudia’s apparel (rounded out by Robert Pickens and Katie Gell’s hair and make-up work).
In “Act Two: The Room” (Buñuel’s “The Exterminating Angel”), the songs literally fade out. The party settles down in an antiquated study (Zinn’s unsparing set), only to discover that a cryptic force compels them to never leave the space. Insanity and secrets spill out. Most of the human center and colorful performances shower Act Two, as the rich face the specter of mortality. Cannavale’s manly bombast burns through in a bid for confidence when his body weakens (“I’ll take over Hell and turn it into condos,” he whoops). The MVP is O’Hare, an “American Horror Story” alum, a servant who harnesses his newfound dominance over his employers, browbeating them to reduce themselves to all fours and ba like sheep for treats.