Easy Outs, or the Adventures of Alphonse on the Lam
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 26, 2008
Easy Outs has been lost for more than 30 years; Russell Dobular and EndTimes Productions deserve major kudos for finding it. It's a hilarious, smart, and still timely satire by Chip Keyes about a young man named Alphonse who, in 1969, decides to dodge the draft and move to a "small neutral peace-loving country" (that he read about in National Geographic) to become a simple craftsman.
He does not become a craftsman. And the country, though small, is far from neutral or peace-loving (what country is?; that's one of the more obvious of Keyes's points here). It is in fact at war with another small country (because the military doesn't want to bite off more than it can chew). And poor Alphonse, far from escaping the draft and a war (Vietnam) that he doesn't believe in, finds himself immediately conscripted and whisked away on a series of scary if haphazard adventures.
Dobular compares Keyes's writing style to that of Mel Brooks or Woody Allen, and he's got a point; structurally, though, the piece feels like a modern-day Candide, with Dr. Strangelove substituted for Dr. Pangloss. And for sheer anarchic and rapid-fire wordplay, punning, and word associations—all of which pepper the script liberally—comparisons like Monty Python or the Marx Brothers seem to be in order.
Eventually Alphonse gets entangled with a group of revolutionaries, led by the enigmatic and scary Gerta, who mistake him for "The Wolf" (an American radical who is a cross between Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin); I hope I'm not giving too much away by letting you know that somehow or other Alphonse winds up as petty dictator of this country he escaped to.
The fun—and the satire, which is often sharp and pointed but sometimes broad and bludgeon-like—comes from the hows and whats of the journey, not the whys.
Now, let me caution you that Keyes's play is far from perfect. He LOVES his wordplay, and almost every sequence and scene in the play lasts at least 30 seconds longer than it ought to; Easy Outs is badly in need of an editor. The ending feels very much of its time, and I found it consequently somewhat unsatisfying.
Dobular's staging is scattershot as well; production values are minimal and transitions are a bit slower than would be optimal. The cast includes a few actors who are terrific, notably Alessandro Colla as Alphonse, Serena Miller as Marta, a black marketeer/cafe operator, and Adam P. Murphy as Brody, an American CIA operative (his first scene, which culminates in demonstrations of several unlikely James Bond/Get Smart-style torture devices, is probably the funniest in the show). But it also includes several others whose work is problematic and ultimately detracts from the overall production. The sound design—loaded up with great rock tunes from the period, from "Daydream Believer" to "Revolution"—is a treat.
So don't expect a perfectly wrought diamond in Easy Outs, but rather a long-buried and quite imperfect gem that could use some further refinement and shaping. It's nonetheless a kind of theatrical treasure; politcally-minded writing this bold and smart and out-there and clear-headed seems to be very much a rarity these days and I'll take it where I find it.