The Hunt for Treasure, a cute two-character play with flashes of wit, owes much of its humor to the comic timing of its excellent cast, Avery Pearson and John Calvin Kelly. Essentially a clown piece, it follows the adventures of the antic, attention-starved Jason (Pearson) and his reluctant, sad-eyed straight-man friend Mark (pun intended?) (Kelly), who find a treasure map in a public park and set off to find the X that marks the spot.
Though funny, the play doesn’t seem to know quite what it is. Godot-style existentialism? Check. Gross-out humor? Check. Irony? Check. The writing is sharp and the actors make the most of every bit. But their exchanges of game-playing and banter, replete with shameless mugging and adolescent whininess, often do feel more like separate bits than a progression that tells a story.
On the plus side, the blurred intentions set up an effective twist ending. Though the action seems to take place in a sort of existential limbo, we suspend our disbelief and enjoy not only the crazy energy but also, within limits, the vague sense of confusion. Then, the distinctive and touching ending helps make sense of what has seemed odd and nonsensical.
The downside is flab around the middle. In this play, which is only an hour long but has two authors, the strands of farce (the majority) and feeling (an essential leavening agent) aren’t entirely woven together. Hence, through no fault of the invigorating performances, the action sags. Unsure to what degree the world of the play is supposed to reflect the real world, we lose our sense of how much we want to care about the characters.
From the reaction of the tipsy opening night audience, which was full of friends and cohorts (including a lady who repeated every funny line out loud), you wouldn’t have guessed The Hunt for Treasure to be anything but comic genius from start to finish. It’s not. But it is fun, and in Pearson and Kelly it boasts two sharp and winning presences.
Through July 8 at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex, NYC. Tickets online at Smarttix or call (212) 868-4444.