Sunday, March 11, 2007

PLAY: "Tall Grass"

The promotional poster for Tall Grass features a lawn gnome holding a cute, miniature ax. No gnomes are actually used, discussed, or harmed in the making of Brian Harris's slipshod collection of dark comedies, and that ax, replete with a Photoshopped gleam from the sun, cuts deeper than anything found in any of these three one-acts. This choice of mascot--lawn gnomes have long been suspected of the sinister sides lurking beneath their cute porcelain facades--is unfortunately the only good choice made in the production. Nick Corley's direction is as jumbled and vague as Cameron Anderson's set design (he suspends a couch five feet off the ground--which, to be fair, is about how high your disbelief needs to hang), and the acting isn't just over-the-top, it's over-the-Big-Top: we're talking a three-ring circus.

Forgive the snarkiness, but there's nothing worse than sitting through a bad dark comedy. In the case of Tall Grass, it happens three times: after watching characters die in absurd last-minute plot twists in "The Business Proposal," they get back on their feet, change costumes (fully), change scripts (barely), change character (hardly), and repeat. "The Gerbil" isn't interested in characters--everything the delusional, impotent homeowner says to the incompetent silver thief is a lie--and thankfully the play ends before the plot holes have a chance to really accumulate. At least the final scene, "Tall Grass," gives Edward O'Blenis and Marla Schaffel a rather convincing do-over as a suspicious elderly couple--and I mean that in both senses. Not only don't they trust the outside world (they are shut-ins), but their existence in a Brian Harris play makes them suspicious as well. The comedy of Tall Grass is not the reveal that this elderly couple is actually a serial-killing pair of cannibals, subsiding on a diet of salesmen and con artists, but that there was a production company somewhere that thought this was a clever concept.

I am rarely this unkind, but I felt it necessary to be unhelpfully critical to this piece: audiences will not laugh at the pedantic lines ("The cod is very...cod-like...and the lemon sauce is very...lemon-y"), and they will not appreciate the shallow obviousness of Tall Grass; they might as well laugh at my comments. How ironic that Brian Harris was a stock analyst: this collection of dark comedies isn't a poor-man's Christopher Durang, it's a bankrupted man's.

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