Oh, That Wily Snake!
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 27, 2012
I think the best way to convey the high-intensity surrealism of Martin Dockery's remarkable play Oh, That Wily Snake! is to tantalize you with a tiny excerpt from it. Edmund and Edith are chit-chatting at Edith's place as they wait for Edith's fiancé, Marcel, to serve dinner. The conversation drifts to the subject of plane travel.
EDITH: What a disaster. The plane crashed!
EDMUND: It did?
EDITH: Upon take-off... The wheels, I think, just [MAKES NOISE].
EDMUND: What do you mean [MAKES SAME NOISE]?
EDMUND: And you crashed!
EDITH: Well CRASHED—You know CRASHED is a big word—I mean, we weren't actually moving yet.
EDMUND: Not even taxiing?
EDITH: Not even taxiing! And then the next thing you know...
EDMUND: [MAKES NOISE AGAIN]?
EDITH: Serves me right for not first going round and kicking all the tires!
As you can see, we're in a world kind of like our own, but not exactly. Fantastical, surprising things happen constantly in Oh, That Wily Snake!, amplifying a variety of interesting ideas and questions about human relationships and about the trouble with getting what you wish for.
I need to tell you that Edmund did not come to Edith and Marcel's for dinner; he didn't even know there was a Marcel, though undaunted after finding out he still contrives to get Edith to take a spin with him on his flying bed. Eventually he convinces her, and off they go. The bed does, apparently, fly. And then things get really hairy.
Dockery is best known as a supremely skillful storyteller (in works like The Surprise, Wanderlust, and the recent The Holy Land Experience, just reviewed by yours truly here). This two-character play explores, not surprisingly, the nature of stories, but not in any conventional or expected way.
It also shows us sides of Dockery's talent heretofore not much seen in his solo pieces: his is not only a delightfully comic performance, but also decidedly a physical comedy tour de force. Watch, for example, as Dockery attempts to "repair" the flying bed at a climactic moment—the slapstick dance he does with a fitted sheet reminded me of Jim Dale's hilarious wrestling match with a tiger skin rug in Me and My Girl.
Dockery's co-star, Vanessa Quesnelle, is just as accomplished; the two are evenly matched, which is just one reason why the play works as well as it does.
Oh, That Wily Snake!—whose title possibly alludes to the serpent in the story of Adam and Eve (except there are Brussels sprouts instead of apples in this Garden of Eden)—kept me continuously surprised and engaged for every one of its 60 minutes. I highly recommend it.