Margie likes lions. Because they’re beautiful, because they’re fierce, because, as Margie says, “they don’t run around saying, ‘Blah blah, what am I doing with my life?’” Unfortunately, lion isn’t a position open to young ladies of decent family. In Chana Porter’s “Leap and the Net Will Appear,” an exasperated critique of self-actualization presented by New Georges at the Flea Theater, Margie (Polly Lee) will spend an hour and a half fiddling with the ignition for a life that won’t turn on.
When we first meet Margie, on Brittany Vasta’s purposefully ugly set, wearing E.L. Hohn’s deliberately dowdy costumes, she’s a nice Jewish girl living with her nice Jewish parents, or maybe her grandparents, Alice (Moe Angelos) and Simon (Ron Domingo). A checkout girl who doesn’t want to become a checkout woman, Margie tries dating, with Laurence (Brian Demar Jones), a rich guy whose dirty talk could use some work: “I would like to try putting different parts of my body into your body.” She tries marriage. Then motherhood. Then travel. Then quasi-incest (with Toni Ann DeNoble’s Tim) and crime.
Her quarter-life crisis stretches out over decades; she never manages to take down a gazelle or discover much in the way of purpose. “I don’t like many things,” Margie tells her grown son, Constantine (Eliza Bent). “I thought that meant I was equally interested in everything, but that’s not true.” A couple of characters inform her that she doesn’t have a heart. But she does have Andrew Lynch, a musician who is credited in the program as Margie’s Heart, on hand to strum guitar strings and plink piano keys, singing out the longing she doesn’t know she feels.
“Leap” is a distaff riff on Henrik Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt,” another story of a person’s not especially successful search for meaning and identity. Ms. Porter has described her play as surrealist, but it’s a little too domesticated to fit that label. It hews more closely to the absurdist tradition, which uses incongruity and exaggeration to suggest some midnight-dark truths about human life and endeavor. (Think Eugène Ionesco or early Christopher Durang or even Will Eno, who shares Ms. Porter’s love for an overturned cliché and whose own version of “Peer Gynt” comes to New York next season.)
Somewhere in “Leap,” there is a wilder play, an angrier exploration of choice and defeat and desire, particularly of the female variety, but this one stops short of anything too troubling. Ms. Porter’s script can skew precious, as when Margie visits Indonesia and Italy with “Eat Pray Love” as her guide. The sex is played for laughs. So is the minimal violence. Characters try being feral, but they can’t commit. If they eat raw meat, it’s out of the refrigerator.
Ms. Lee is, as ever, a spiky and big-eyed delight, and it’s always a treat to see Ms. Angelos, originally one of the Five Lesbian Brothers, back onstage, never more so when she portrays a helpful bonobo.
But Tara Ahmadinejad, who directed “Lunch Bunch” at the Wild Project last month with such feeling and precision, can’t keep these 90 minutes from dragging, or stretch the laughs — there are plenty — into something more substantial.
And there is substance here, especially in Ms. Porter’s bleak suggestion that just because you spend your whole life looking for some deep, essential, existential truth doesn’t mean you’ll find it.
Leap and the Net Will Appear Through June 30 at the Flea Theater; 212-226-0051, newgeorges.org