Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Classically Skewed

The problem with the word "skewed" is that it doesn't quite mean what people think it does. By nature, when you skew something, you "distort, especially from a true value." And that's the case here with Sweetness & Light's well-meaning and occasionally entertaining trio of one-acts, Classically Skewed. In the name of the "avant bard," Shakespeare is mashed-up courtesy of a sock puppet and manic director into Brett Hursey's "Shakespeare Lives!" and for the sake of daytime talk shows everywhere, Melissa Villain retells classic Greek tragedy as "Mayor Eddie P. Rex." They're distorted alright (or exaggerated, as with their rendition of Chekhov's "The Bear"), the result of which are a series of comic plays that leave truth way behind in the dust.

Comedy for comedy's sake, unfortunately, leads to a lot of amateur stuff. Actors abandon character in favor of laughs, writers--hitting upon something that makes us chuckle--continue to beat a horse to death, and directors refuse to slow down, leaving little room for feel much of anything, good or bad. The goal was to be Classically Skewed, but the result is Modernly Erratic. For instance, Doug Rossi has a booming voice, a wild posture, and a nice range: he should be the model Grigory Stepanovitch Smirnov, aka "The Bear." But he doesn't maintain the specifics of his role, choosing instead to play cheap laughs in a French accent, or to play with Yelena Popov's (Villain's) veil. As a result, his "transformative" moment--when he realizes that he loves his unwilling debtor, Yelena--seems put on. In turn, Villian doesn't have all that much to send back his way, and has to force herself to be angry. Compared to Abe Lebovic's one-dimensional portrayal of the timid old servant, Luka, who has been reduced to a deep whine and knee-bent waddle, they're terrific, but that's not much of a complement.

At least the other two plays are original: there's no expectations for the actors to live up to. That said, one wishes that Thomas Rowen didn't start out as such a crazy Director--it gives "Shakespeare Lives!" nowhere to build to, and makes it seem increasingly odd that Rosalind (Megan Melnyk) would stick around for his absurd auditioning tactics. It doesn't help that Hursey's script repeats itself so often, but at least director Marielle Duke knows a good thing when she sees it: the sock puppet rendition of Romeo and Juliet is flat-out funny. As for "Mayor Eddie P. Rex," it is blessed by Sarah Chemerys's presence as talk-show host Sophie Cleese, Tom Lacey's pitch-perfect white-trash attitude as a guest on the show, and by the genre's broad allowance of mugging for the "camera" (i.e., audience). Villian's adaptation is at least clever on the surface, although without any Oedipal depth it ends up repeating the same old story over and over again. (In terms of camp, it brings The Toxic Avenger to mind.)

The work of Classically Skewed is far from being an instant classic, but every company has to start somewhere. All that's left is to now apply the lessons they've learned from the past.

No comments: