Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Daddy Didn't Die, Did He? (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Got three reviews this week, all of them comedies. So be prepared for pontification!

Daddy Didn't Die, Did He? is a farce centered around a funeral. Thus we expect things to go very, very wrong. Sure enough, this being a farce, such goings wrong follow in a growing cascade. The Assistant Funeral Director has been left in charge, while the deceased children start fighting it out for who gets to do the eulogy (two of them seem like hipster versions for people from The Game of Thrones) while other matters arise regarding the will.

Matters always arise regarding the will.

The entire cast consists of Will Matthews and Casey Christensen (from Hemophilia's House of Horrors), a comedy team with over twelve years experience. It shows. Apart from the fact both show considerable skill, they also (and this remains crucial) remain comfortable with each other and never stop interacting. Seen lots of plays where such interaction doesn't happen. Odd, since what else is acting after all?

Pontification follows. I warned you.

Both Matthews and Christensen play multiple characters: The Assistant Director, the deceased's trophy wife (a nice enough but dim, dim, dim bulb in the chandelier of human intellect), the fraternal twins locked in a never ending battle to earn the title of ubermensch, their housekeeper who had a thirty-year affair with the dearly departed, the very nice but insecure eldest daughter, and even an elderly couple doing a little bit of window shopping for their own funeral. This puts a demand on them. Every time they walk on stage, we the audience need to know in seconds who they are--especially since neither changes clothes (there's no time, for one thing).

And they succeed! Wonderfully! More than voice, but also vocal tones, stance, the way they walk and look at things all form a cohesive whole for each character. Indeed, towards the end there's even a long scene where they continually switch characters and remain on stage!

Which remains praiseworthy in and of itself, but the further trick they accomplished remains capturing the right tone for the piece. Well, they wrote it, so one hopes they'd understand that. Doesn't necessarily follow, though. Not only do they have to maintain a comic tone appropriate for the piece, they have to share that tone. A much harder thing to do! Ever notice how many "10 Worst Movies" lists each year contain a whole lot of comedies? Why? Because when you're supposed to laugh, and you don't--or worse, no one laughs--the failure glares like a beacon. Part of what they did right remains something extremely simple--they played their scenes with each other, and to each other. Not to the audience.Bravo! More, they understood precisely what they were saying and didn't try to be funny. They simply were funny, each character allowed to be humorous without straining either performer or audience.

The result was laughter. Lots of it. A quick little roller coaster of human foibles, easy to follow (if not to perform) hence effortless to watch (the exact opposite to rehearse and perfect, I expect), allowing us to feel in the moment--but not too much. Because shooting a horse gleefully to make your brother suffer shouldn't be funny, wouldn't be, not in real life. But when you strike the right tone as was achieved here--comedy gold!

Daddy Didn't Die, Did He? is part of the 2013 Fringe and plays at the Ruby Theatre in the Complex at 6476 Santa Monica Boulevard. Showtimes: June 13, 8pm - June 20, 8:15pm - June 21, 9:45pm - June 28, 11pm - June 29, 9:15pm

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