The warning comes early in Ryan William Downey’s “Sleeping Car Porters” as a voice-over welcomes us to the story — “and when I say ‘story’ I really mean a patchwork of moments.”
And what moments they are.
Granted, some of this Title:Point company production, at the Brick Theater, about a certain kind of mythological American noir is frustratingly cryptic, and some sections extend their welcome way too long.
But then there are scenes so wonderfully flabbergasting or even unexpectedly creepy that I found myself chuckling in sheer delight. We should never underestimate the joy of being taken aback by something completely off-kilter onstage — it doesn’t happen all that often.
By way of a prologue, a western troubadour by the name of Dakota Kirke (Kegan Zema) sings a couple of tunes and exits with a piece of advice: “Prepare yourself for a phantasmagoria of power, violence and mystery — whatever that means.”
And so it begins.
Betty Lou (Nadia Pinder) and David (Justin Anselmi) are in a car (half a rickety frame covered by a tarp and with tin foil for bumpers), driving to a lake on date night. It’s the 1960s and romance is in the air. Until a hulking man in a black hood (Downey) appears, pulls out a gun, orders the teenagers out of the car and shoots them dead.
Cue the Shirelles’ “Foolish Little Girl,” which plays as the show’s title is projected on the wall. On a shoestring budget, Downey (who directed in collaboration with the ensemble) has created an ambience of surreal comedy and actual dread, helped by Abigail Entsminger’s stark lighting and his own suggestive sound design — a music cue going around and around in an eerie loop is especially effective. (The show’s audio component is startling throughout as it makes the most of very little, with simple sound effects like a kettle’s whistle suddenly becoming terrifying.)
What we have just witnessed is the Zodiac killer’s ripped-from-the-headlines first murder. Afterward he runs into Billy the Kid, played by Theresa Buchheister (who is taking over as the Brick’s artistic director in January) in elaborate facial hair, boots and a duster coat. The two men have a connection bridging time and place, and often speak in unison.
Not that their bromance is all sunny, as when they start a cartoonish brawl, breaking plates over each other’s heads. A bit later they’re cozying up in the car, contentedly munching on popcorn and drinking soda.
In case it weren’t obvious by now: Do not look for airtight meaning in all this. The narrative connective tissue is not strong, but there are enough striking moments to be well worth the $20 ticket price.
Like, for instance, the encounter between Billy and a cowboy named Fata Morgana (Pinder), who enters astride a horse (Anselmi, wearing tap shoes to make the hooves’ clip-clop). She serenades the outlaw with Bob Dylan’s “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” while the horse gently shuffles about, chewing on a carrot.
It’s a surprisingly delicate moment, especially since Pinder, who is best known as a comedian, has a sweet voice that could turn pretty much anything into a tender lullabies. (She puts it to great use in a later rendition of Bobbie Gentry’s “Billy the Kid.”)
As with most plays lacking a conventional arc, “Sleeping Car Porters” ends on yet another puzzling note as Billy dies by shooting but also by hanging. Or maybe he chokes when his face is pushed into his birthday cake. Experimental theater is not stingy about options.
Sleeping Car Porters
Through Dec. 14, at the Brick, Brooklyn; bricktheater.com. Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes.