She borrows, too, from William Wycherley’s notoriously randy Restoration comedy “The Country Wife.” Its hero, Horner, spreads a rumor of his own impotence so he can proceed with his many liaisons unsuspected. The version of that in “Merry Me” involves Jess telling everyone that Shane has turned straight.
This lie is handy for fending off General Memnon (David Ryan Smith), who wants Shane “court marshaled for her heretically heterophobic courting habits.” It also ensures her freedom to woo women, with Sapph soon topping the list. Except that the pseudo-enlightened Willy (Ryan Spahn) is nowhere near as gullible as his father.
It’s a ridiculous, convoluted plot, with only a tenuous logic in its connection to Shane’s orgasmic quest, but there is a gleeful, almost punchy abandon to this play’s dedication to queer female pleasure, embrace of bawdy fun and relish of theatrical in-jokes.
With shout-outs to Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett and Thornton Wilder, “Merry Me” pilfers successfully from Shakespeare (when Sapph dons a mannish disguise that Shane sees right through) and from Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” (which lends a glamorous, comic, sexually skilled Angel, played by Shaunette Renée Wilson). If such a mash-up smacks slightly of drama school, “Merry Me” also has a refreshingly playful spirit that established artists sometimes lose out in the world.
Rachel Hauck’s set gives an angel’s-eye view of the base camp, with rows of miniature tents arrayed on a vertical backdrop, and in fact the Angel and her winged colleagues are much concerned with goings-on there. Godlike, they caused the blackout that has paused the war. To lift it, they demand a sacrifice — and in this feminist retelling, that’s not going to be anybody’s daughter.
Pvt. Willy Memnon, they’re looking at you.
Through Nov. 19 at New York Theater Workshop, Manhattan; nytw.org. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.