That Old Soft Shoe
nytheatre.com review by David Vining
June 8, 2010
That Old Soft Shoe is an ambitious new political comedy from Blue Coyote Theater Group. Political comedy, you say? How can there be political comedy now that we have a Democrat of color in the White House and "right-minded" people filling government jobs wherever you look? Well, that is exactly the question that gets asked and answered, with plenty of laughter, in this production.
Set in some sort of a newfangled "open, transparent" political prison, somehow under the auspices of the Presidential Physical Fitness Program, the exact plot of the play is not readily apparent for quite some time. But that is part of the joke.
The characters we meet are a small cadre of military advisers, a private contractor, and the political prisoner no one knows what to do with. Part of the trouble seems to be that the prisoner (or client) is English—though there is some disagreement as to his nationality and ethnicity. In fact, there is a near total lack of consensus in the world of That Old Soft Shoe. The play seems to purposefully avoid any coherent exposition of the facts throughout Act One, just like any bureaucrat worth his salt. Instead the characters spout double-speak and point fingers at one another. This blending of theme, plot, and humor into one giant phlegmball of obfuscation, wool-gathering, and some darn funny dialogue, is the calling card of the play.
Eventually it comes to light, begrudgingly, that a change in administration and the impending arrival of a U.S. Senator are creating a sense of urgency, if not panic, amongst our group of government employees. When he does arrive the Senator, in the person of Steve Burns, wreaks havoc on their tiny world in a hilariously unexpected way.
As soon as he sets foot on the stage, Burns grabs the show by the throat and never lets go with a performance that manages to be outrageous, physically focused, nuanced, and laugh-out-loud funny. David DelGrosso is the other standout as the amiable but soulless private contractor looking out for number one. Though underutilized, Maya Ferrara shows great comic timing playing the tight-lipped attache. Laura Desmond is also funny, but seemed out of her depth at times when she was forced to carry the action of the play.
The script is quirky and foul-mouthed in a wonderful, smart way. In fact the only fault of the script is possibly being too clever at times. Using a combination of dead-on satire of political speak and a sly pinch of absurdism, the jokes come fast and furious and there are belly laughs aplenty. Design is almost nil—even for a festival production. The emphasis here is on the dialogue. There are moments in the first act that lag and some of the jokes fly under the radar, but the lulls never stretch too long. Director Kyle Ancowitz and playwright Matthew Freeman have worked together before and their comfort level shows in the tidiness of the production and the relaxed easy performances of the company. Though it falls just short of total brilliance, Burns, David DelGrosso, and a preponderance of great jokes, both smart and silly, make That Old Soft Shoe a show I recommend checking out when it returns to the Too Soon Festival for its final three performances the last week of June.