Normally, when a comedian is dying on stage, it's as bad for the audience as it is for the performer. But that's not the case in 666, a new, crassly comic show from Yllana, a group of physical humorists from Spain. You see, JO (Joseph Michael O'Curneen), FF (Fidel Fernandez), JR (Juan Ramos Toro), and RC (Raul Cano) have all recently been incarcerated and sentenced to death, and for roughly ninety minutes, they turn prison into a riot, the sort of place where their own executions will slay you.
If you're familiar with the sort of work Billy the Mime does, you'll feel right at home with their graphic pantomimes: in just the first scene, JO suggestively illustrates how to use intestines as a tie and JB juggles invisible testicles. Words aren't needed here: violence is a sort of universal language, too. On the other hand, actual props soon appear, and that's when 666 really starts to develop, toying with the sort of illusory tricks you might have seen in Slava's Snowshow, only with blood. The gross-out moments are fleeting (a skit with bedpans is potty humor at its worst), but the more substantive bits stay with you. Then again, of the ten segments, only five really stand out: no matter how well a dick joke is acted, it's still just a dick joke.
But that's why 666 ends up working: it quickly establishes expectations, and then gratuitously exceeds them. At the start of the show, the actors test the fourth wall, only to find that it's electric--but rest assured (if by nothing else other than the word "Volunteer" in the program) that at some point, that conventional wall will come down. If a joke about anal rape isn't funny the first time, it certainly is when a stuffed animal gets it, or when it turns into a running gag at a most unexpected moment. Even some of those gross-out moments earn their keep: folks, don't recycle your condoms. Feel free to recycle your jokes, though--666 revives a bit from Austin Powers involving a not-quite dead assistant--if you've got the physical control to make it worth our time. (They do.)
The best moments, however, are those that mash-up genres--and also the moments where director David Ottone's hand can most clearly be seen. For instance, the use of lighting in "Sweet Dreams," shows RC's nightmarish flight from his inner demons--and then JR's slow-motion enjoyment, as he butchers his, accompanied by a sunny song. "Guillotine Dance" offers a balletic beheading, complete with the most absurd leotards. Not to be outdone, there's "Hanging Out," an exceedingly well-staged bit that opens with two bodies hanging by the neck, only to be brought to life as one's errant farts propel him into the other. The climax--and let's call it that--is "Inferno," for which there shall be no spoilers--except to say that this is the reason the pre-show announcement encourages audience members to take non-flash photos, so bring a camera. And perhaps a towel.
Saturday, April 17, 2010