Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Nosemaker's Apprentice

Photo/Simon Pearce

It's a sad day for puppets. Despite the hard-working comedy of the musical Jollyship the Whiz-Bang, Nick Jones, joined now by co-writer Rachel Shukert, has realized that actors can act just as manically as puppets (and they work for less, too). To their credit--and that of director Peter James Cook--it's not a sad day for theater. The Nosemaker's Apprentice (subtitled "Chronicles of a Medieval Plastic Surgeon") is a terrifically funny show that borrows as much from Monty Python as it does from Tim and Eric.

The fractured fairy tale sets off with a bang, as a plastic surgeon (Ian Lowe) tries to explain why he's not the villain his ex-wife has made him out to be. His nine-year-old daughter (Molly Ward) is forced to listen as he explains the ancient history of "nosemaking," all the way back to the daring "organic" noses (as opposed to wooden or metallic) of Wulfric (Corey Sullivan). Our touchstone for ancient times is Gavin (Eric Gilde), his newly adopted orphan apprentice, whose ignorant charm quickly seduces Wulfric's daughter, Amelia: "You're the most beautiful and only girl I've ever seen."

What starts as calm deadpan absurdism ("I lost my father before he ever met my mother," says this one-uppingly tragic orphan) soon becomes a frantic spoof, with Gavin traveling to a nosemaking academy in Vienna and a free clinic in France, where Mr. Sullivan reappears, first as a Schwarteneggering professor ("Use your hands," he screams in the same tone as Predator's "Get to the chopper"), then as a gay Frenchman. Each scene grows more insane, so that by the time Sullivan enters, face buried in a giant chocolate cake, dressed as the Queen of France, we're entirely on board. In fact, things are sometimes so silly that the play calls for straight relief, which Rightor Doyle handles with stolid aplomb.

As with old British farces, things are so energetic that even the sloppier, erratic bits (you know that hole in France? where the naked ladies dance?) are endearingly hilarious. At the least, it's original, although the need for narrator is rather superfluous (even if Mr. Lowe, in that role, is most certainly not). In any case, Normandy Raven Sherwood's flamboyantly enabling costumes and Jo Williamson's flashback-filled sound design keep us from ever thinking that The Nosemaker's Apprentice is just the happy accident of some excitable teens. Jones and Shukert are well on their way to becoming masters of the comedymaking profession.

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