The October Sapphire
nytheatre.com review by Ross Peabody
August 13, 2006
First of all, though it's billed as one, The October Sapphire is not a musical. It's a sketch comedy mashup of several disparate stories, coupled with four songs that generally approximate plot-points of different aspects of the show. The play revolves around the house and person of Raffaella Lonnigan, an aged and crazy former actress, who seems to be either dead or immortal. Played by the trenchantly hilarious and over the top Hetty Marriot-Brittan, Raffaella is a disturbed and disturbing caricature of the aging movie star. In fact, if the play consisted of Hetty Marriot-Brittan performing the catchy, funny songs written by Andy Clockwise and Nick Coyle, it'd make an enjoyable and satisfying, although slightly puerile, 25-minute cabaret show.
As it stands, though, The October Sapphire is an hour and 40 minutes of jokes, good and bad, flying from, and at, anything that moves, in hopes that they'll stick, or, if we're really lucky, find an appropriate (or inappropriate) 20-year-old pop culture reference that'll really get us guffawing in the aisles. This "throw everything at the wall" approach is both the strength and the downfall of the show. Rooted in the sensibility of sketch comedy (many of the performers seem to have covered large parts of the Australian sketch circuit)—in which one must present the stories quickly, the gags even faster, and still tie it all up, often being as shocking as possible to get the best, fastest, and biggest laugh—the play succeeds to a point. When I realized, admittedly halfway through the play, that this was the type of material that I was dealing with, it was much more palatable to sit back and let the gags make me laugh without expecting anything more. The drawback to this is that the show is neither structured nor presented as sketch comedy. It's a play, and as a play, something of a disappointment.
There are some funny-ish conceits: a depressed, wish-granting, rapping genie and his three burnt out showgirl Furies; a rapist demon puppet with a heart of gold who lives in a closet; an innocent American girl-next-door with a dirty, dirty past; and Raffaella's orphaned nephew Arthur (the charismatic and moderately enchanting Ben Harrison), home from boarding school to kill his aunt. It should, I think, at least be charming, but Nick Coyle, who admirably toils as actor, writer, and director may have taken on too much. The lack of specificity in his direction leads the jokes, even the funny ones (and there are some howlers), to land without any timing at all, and therefore, rarely with any laughs. As a writer, he's much more skilled, but somehow dated (which is odd, because he looks like he can't be much more than 22). Does anyone born after 1983 even understand what calling a puppet "Alf" would mean, let alone, why it may (or may not) be insulting?
What I will say is that The October Sapphire is wildly well-intentioned and that Coyle is playing with a lot of potential. Apparently, The October Sapphire has been a three-season sellout cult hit somewhere in Australia, and I applaud them for that. I'd be curious to see Coyle and company tighten up the ship and identify what it is they're doing and how to improve it, because it really is funny to have a crazy old lady sing, "If I married a gorilla, would I have a monkey baby?"