Playwrite Melissa James Gibson, also a writer for the Netflix original series “House of Cards,” offers theatergoers a quirky take on life in “What Rhymes with America,” now being staged at The Public Theatre.

The off-Broadway play features a cast of characters who sound like the set-up for a “walked into a bar” joke, with impending divorcee Hank (Kyle Knauf) at the center of the dark comedy punchline. Marlene (Carolyn Faye Kramer) is Hank’s estranged teenage daughter; Sheryl (Janet Mitchko) is a struggling actress who works with Hank as an extra at the Metropolitan Opera; and Lydia (Lindsey Gates), a socially awkward 40-year-old virgin who Hank attempts to date after separating from his wife of 22 years.

The characters’ idiosyncrasies are accentuated for laughs as they struggle to move on from the rut they find themselves in. A revolving set by Amber Callahan further shows the interconnectedness of the characters.

“What Rhymes with America” manifests the contrasting juxtaposition between the difficulty and absurdity of life. The play pulls at the audience’s heartstrings as the characters mourn their losses — marriage, identity, dreams, loved ones.

Hank and Sheryl’s smoking breaks outside the Metropolitan Opera were amusing highlights opening night as they waxed philosophical about their mundane lives, dressed in outlandish costumes from Viking and Egyptian productions.

Mitchko’s expressive characterization of Sheryl provided an entertaining contrast to Knauf’s downtrodden Hank. Both actors offered just the right touch of wry humor that was nicely exploited in the second smoking break, when Sheryl offered to show Hank how to kiss. Sheryl’s retelling — via voice message to Hank — of her epic meltdown on stage was priceless as the play wound to a close.

The awkwardness between Hank and Lydia was another comic highlight, culminating in the characters’ first intimate encounter. Gates was endearingly gawky, dressed in a down parka and safety orange hat, with pompom.

Amidst the quirkiness of “What Rhymes with America” is the ongoing theme that life isn’t easy. “I don’t think the one who made life up realized how difficult it is,” Marlene tells Hank as they clasp hands through a semi-closed door at the end. The father and daughter are desperate to connect, but unable to get past the blockades in their lives.

Kramer offers a touching quality to the play as the teenage daughter, struggling to find her identity and self-worth in the wake of her parent’s separation. She also wrote the music for the songs her character sings throughout the play.

“What Rhymes with America” combines humor and poignant life messages to create an episodic snapshot into the intertwined lives of its four characters.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. Contact her at: [email protected]

Twitter: @ahboyle