Saturday, April 07, 2007

PLAY: "Suburban Peepshow"

(Photo/Ben VandenBoom)

James Comtois's new play with Nosedive Productions, Suburban Peepshow, is neither suburban nor peepshow. It's also not fine art, a fact the playwright both bravely acknowledges in his notes ("The main goal of me writing this was to make myself laugh") and in the show itself, where he leaps onstage half-naked as "Chubby Guy," there to jiggle for the audience's amusement (and to provide the cast time for a scene change). But as the playwright within this metacomedy tells the Catholic-schoolgirl-clad actress he's trying to bone (them's the rules of the game), "seeing that chubby guy dancing has increased [the audience's] happiness," and with all the prancing around of dismembered carnival barkers, the violent sequins of ninja crossdressers, the cutthroat economy of in-office gladiators, and romantic flings with self-titled characters ("Pool Guy" and "New Girl"), Suburban Peepshow does succeed in making us laugh. (It's also preceded by a comic short, Trailers, which spoofs the Hollywood movie formula, and itself, at the same time.)

A show like Suburban Peepshow isn't asking to be finely parsed: you could say that Bill's transition from suburban father to Roman gladiator represents his inner monologue, the way he dreams himself as a conquering savage. But you could just as easily accept that Patrick Shearer, who plays Office Guy #2, was really just trying to stop his external monologue ("Man, you really are boring") long enough to get some time in the spotlight. Given that the show is satire in good fun, replete with over-the-top performances by everyone outside of the family (they'd be nightmarish if they weren't so funny), I'd stick with the latter. However, it's for this reason that Comtois's work falls short of the literary (like George Saunders) and sticks with the low-brow (think Comedy Central). The humor leaks everywhere, from the absurdity of the narration (killed off faster here than in Into The Woods) to scenes where the increasingly drunken playwright (Anthony Bertram) is berated for not giving an actor a bigger "part" (by which he means the member's member) and for hitting on his cast. This isn't actually how Suburban Peepshow was written (one assumes), but the flow between the external forces and internal forces shows a playwright more concerned with good times than deep meaning.

Suburban Peepshow's greatest strength is that it writes itself: anything someone says about a character winds up becoming true, as if the world around us is shaped by what we think (which, in some ways, it is). Mother (the talented Leslie E. Hughes) considers having a fling with Pool Guy (Ben VandenBoom), and so when she inevitably meets him, he comes clad completely in cliche, all macho swagger and mustache. When Bill (a nicely suppressed Zack Calhoon) compares the "antics" at his office to those of Office Space, the next scene is filled with wry lines that could be ripped straight from our perception of the world. I said at first that Suburban Peepshow was neither suburban nor a peepshow, but that's not accurate: it's the world of both, but as we imagine it . . . and as they imagine it.

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