Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Snug's Revenge (review)

Spoilers ahoy!
design by Adam Neubauer

Fresh from the wake of ZJU's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream comes a dark farce about another production of the same play, only in this one a certain actress doesn't like the role she's won. No, she doesn't want (or intend) to be the fairy Snug when the part of Puck lies within her reach. Or seems to be, anyway. Like Richard III she intends to open up the way to what she wants, with all the ruthlessnss of Iago, the focus of Henry V and the compassion/sanity of Titus Andronicus.

Snug's Revenge, written and directed by Adam Neubauer, stars Hannah Kaplan in the lead, huge of smile and fierce of eye.We get surprisingly little backstory for the theatre company which turns out to be the setting. Mostly just the fact they're doing Midsummer because, well, it is the middle of summer. Kinda like they'll be doing A Christmas Carol in December. Of course they will. One of many, many in-jokes are lain on top of one another--ZJU did the Dickens classic itself this last holiday season! Just as references to other actors  well known at this venue dot the dialogue. But in truth you don't need to "get' any such references. The humor works on its own level. Producer Daniel Krause stepping on director Jason Britt's toes, oblivious of the latter's habitual and weary rage. Bickering/flirting between the four actors (Clayton McInerney, Julian Martinez, Jenna Doolittle, Zoe Rose Moacanin) playing lovers. The
  Credit: Jim Eshom
fact we don't know where any of this is really taking place doesn't matter, not really.

What matters is how the humor works. Farce depends upon the absence of rational limit. Like a crack in the ice, that absence grows until everything shatters. In this case Hannah wants the role of Puck so badly she gradually performs acts less ethical and more bizarre. When she eliminates the director's first choice by slipping him a mickey finn, the role goes to someone else. Violence is her answer. She actually seduces the hygiene-challenged next choice (Leif La Duke--hilarious and fearless as ever) before going over the deep end when the director insists on by-passing her yet AGAIN! Gradually (or as gradually as any one-hour play can allow) her madness proves catching and a clownish Jacobean tragedy begins its climax, with an impressive number of dead bodies piling up before the end.

Which gives me an excuse to pontificate a bit. Humor, in terms of acting technique, lies in two major skills.
Credit: Jim Eshom

First is inappropriate value. When the Director and Producer share the "good news' that they've found a replacement for the important role of Puck, the fact one member of the cast reacts by screaming GODDAMMIT! makes for a perfect example. Likewise, when someone suggests you kill another human because (they insist) there's no other way to ever get a chance to direct--if you treat that suggestion seriously! The second is sudden emotional change. When some one goes from loathing every inch of your guts to offering you (Emily Cunningham) the friendliest of drinks in the space of maybe six seconds, the suddenness helps make the offer funny. Likewise when a mousy girl (Lydia Muijen) goes from chronic insecurity to wild enthusiasm at her own abilities, that too becomes funny--especially when things are at stake!

All of the above skills are demonstrated, both in performance as well as in potential within the script. Which makes for a very funny sixty minutes of dark humor and plenty of laughs. Is it a perfect show? No. Most obviously, this kind of humor needs more rehearsal than it seems to have received to work as effectively as possible. The result is a perfectly good letter opener, instead of a scalpel. But the paper gets cut! The audience laughs! One might find oneself wishing (as I did) the play were longer, with a gradual build-up into its levels of insanity. But that doesn't take away from what remains very available to enjoy!

Which is what I did.

Snug's Revenge plays Sunday nights at 7pm until October 5 at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre at 4850 Lankershim Blvd. North Hollywood CA 91601 (just north of Camarillo, across the street from KFC).  Tickets are $15. You can make reservations at 818.202.4120 or at zombiejoes.tix.com

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