Bad Plays Festival
nytheatre.com review by Various Reviewers
September 11, 2007
nytheatre.com reviewers sampled three evenings of the Bad Plays Festival.
"Something to Offend Everyone" — reviewed by Richard Hinojosa
The question here is: do bad plays deserve a festival? Well, that really depends on what is meant by bad. There's the intentionally bad that's so bad it's good. There's bad as in naughty, irreverent, and unsavory bad or banned-by-the-powers-that-be bad. And then, of course, there's bad as in not well-written and/or poorly produced. I'm not entirely which of these they are going for. I assume it's the middle one but on the whole that's not what I saw and arguments can be made for all three.
The night is broken into four short plays with the theme of "Something to Offend Everyone." The first play, The Hootens of Hollerville, is basically a 30-minute-long farm-animal-fucking riff. There is no discernible plot but what this play does have in droves is big, though stereotypical, characters. I especially enjoyed Max Lodge as the chicken-banging Jimmybuck and Carol Padiernos as his slutty sister Marylou. Playwright Michael Paul Girard gives us a play that is rude and makes no attempts at redeeming value. It's funnier than it is offensive simply because I don't identify with ridiculously depraved and impoverished hillbillies. The play points at them and laughs but it doesn't make you think about poverty or the animals that are being violated, it's just an extended bad joke with a flat ending and no story. This play falls soundly in all three of the aforementioned categories of bad.
The next play, Hollywood Saves Africa, is about two unrelated groups of egotistical and insensitive Americans who have traveled to Africa. They meet two locals and try in vain to converse with them. Like the previous play, this one has no plot, no conflict, and no ending. The elitism and racism of the characters certainly achieve the theme of offensive, but it's not funny. Playwright K. Knapp does not seem to grasp the potential of the irony in the situation she's created, so the script comes across as witless. A potential saving grace could have been something said or done by the two locals to make them more than just the brunt of an onslaught of very unoriginal American exceptionalism, but they say and do nothing.
The third offering, The Jewish Roaches, is about a Jewish couple who move into a new apartment that has an infestation of roaches. Since they're not Jewish roaches they decide to have them destroyed. When they can't seem to rid themselves of these pests they move out and an Arab couple moves in. In the end, more explosive methods are used to deal with the problem. The mutual hate and distrust between these two groups is fired up because of such a petty problem. Penned by Richard Ravits, this show is quite funny and Ravits fully exploits the irony in the situation. Thankfully, Ravits gives us a story with a conflict and decent ending. The cast, Tara Godomski, McGregor Wright, Dennis J. Funny, and Patrick Colabella are all very good in this the shortest play of the evening, though Wright seemed to be confused, using what sounded more like an Indian accent in his Arab role.
The final play, The Mexican Cleaning Lady or How I Almost Offended the Dalai Lama, is the most absurd play of the night and also my favorite. An agency representing the Dalai Lama is trying to exploit his name in some way but a nerdy employee has inadvertently insulted him. The Jewish woman who runs the agency wants him to apologize. When the Mexican cleaning lady arrives we realize that the Dalai Lama is not who he seems to be. Playwright Leslie Bramm creates some very interesting abstractions with his stereotypical characters. The story is bizarre and funny with chucks of truth and sarcasm flying around. This is the only play of the night that really transcends all the categories of bad. The cast is great. Notably, Marcia Hopson is just perfect as the hot Mexican cleaning lady and Matthew Jenkins hits with his nerdy portrayal of Mr. Lamb.
There is a comedian who gets up between acts. All I can say about her is that she is consistent with the rest of the night and that it may have helped if she actually had some material. So...will I return to the Bad Plays Festival next year? I'd have to say no. From loud talking backstage to inconsistent script and production quality, the night on the whole was a mess. However, I will be looking out for a couple of these playwrights and actors in the future.
"Poking at Sacred Cows" — reviewed by Allison Taylor
The problem with "Poking at Sacred Cows"—a grouping of three one-acts in the Bad Plays Festival—is that no cows are harmed in the making of these plays. However, the title's inaccuracy reveals why the evening is so frivolous: the playwrights never attempt to say anything, about sacred cows or otherwise. An unapologetic exercise in forgettable silliness, the evening consists solely of crass sexual humor, jokes about bodily functions, and puns not awful enough to be good. Because all three lack real stories or believable characters, the one-acts feel less like plays and more like comedy sketches only a few degrees naughtier than the average Saturday Night Live skit.
The first of the evening, Come Again?, retells the birth of Jesus, only set in present-day America. There is plenty to send-up in the Nativity story, but playwright Richard J. Budin merely makes the story goofy, turning Joseph into a stingy Jew, changing the stable to a motel frequented by prostitutes, and using the Three Stooges as the Three Kings. Taping a drawn donkey's head to a broom is cute, but the predictable and incessant "ass" jokes are not as cute. The performances seem a little unsure and nervous, the exception being Amanda McCallum, who commits to her whiny Mary with dead-on deadpan. But ultimately, if the aim of the festival is to be "naughty" (and not "bad" in quality), then Come Again? would benefit from being worse.
The cast of The Moor's Pastiche, a parody of Othello, renders this one-act the most enjoyable. As the Othello character, an underwear-clad Renaldy Smith struts humorously and booms with a perfectly affected vibrato, while Todd Loyd as his arch-nemesis emits just the right amount of exaggerated slime. Director Robin Parrish has worked hard at the comic timing and moves the play at a pleasantly rapid pace. But playwright Jean Hart fails to skewer Othello's ridiculous plot, adequately explore the differences between the sexes, or even hint at the homoerotic relationship between Othello and Iago. And yes, it's hard to top Shakespeare, the dirtiest playwright of them all, but the answer is not throwing a penis-shaped dildo onstage.
Last up is The Queen's Privy, a sex romp surrounding Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, and the various menials about the English court. Although the cast has fun with the rhyming verse, they all play the same general shade of goofiness—only Jessica Morris, as a staunch and prissy Catherine, endows her character with specificity. However, even brilliant performances couldn't make the interminable series of corny quips funny, or the tasteless sex scenarios entertaining.
Whether knowingly or not, playwright Michael Paul Girard borrows much from Woody Allen's "Do Aphrodisiacs Work?" episode from Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, which is also a sex romp set in a medieval English court. Most noticeably, Girard steals Allen's trying-to-unlock-a-chastity-belt gag, which Mel Brooks also utilized for Robin Hood: Men in Tights (and which Allen probably stole from someone else). Since Woody and Mel couldn't make that joke work, it's no surprise that here it gets very tired very quickly. It's just as tiresome to hear "t'what" instead of "what" over and over again, especially since grammatically speaking the abbreviation makes no sense. And that's the whole problem with The Queen's Privy, and "Poking at Sacred Cows" as a whole: the cheap gags and dirty puns are never grounded in anything. They are bad jokes about sex that only exist to be bad jokes about sex.
And so, if we've learned anything from "Poking at Sacred Cows," it's that if you host a Bad Plays Festival, you should make sure your plays are very good.
"Swingtime for Hitler (& Friends)" — reviewed by Kat Chamberlain
"I knew Stalin. Stalin was a friend of mine. You, you're no Stalin!" Hitler shouts at Mussolini on the stage of a presidential debate, an invitation-only party soon to be crashed by Jesus Christ, a third-party candidate.
Yes, you read that correctly.
This was but an ordinary night from the Bad Plays Festival, back for its second year with gleeful assaults on all things sacred.
Bad is, for once, good; Indeed the badder the better in this case. The organizer of the festival told the tale of its conception before curtain time, and how the unsolicited "bad" submissions had spurred the idea yet soon evolved into presenting daring, irreverent works that may give "shock therapy" a whole new meaning.
Does a "no holds barred, no punches pulled" approach make for better theatre? Not always. But the sense of freedom can result in spectacular imagination. With three works on this particular night under the title theme of "Swingtime for Hitler (& Friends)", all bets are off. Jon Brooks's Better Than Hitler kick-starts the show with an election farce featuring the aforementioned two dictators and "JC." Hitler as the Republican nominee spews proposals such as "100% tax-cut" and ends his stump speeches with, "Eliminate all Jews! Keep hope alive!" The other two candidates were not to be outdone. So enjoyable are the clever references to our past two elections that I was willing to forgive some of the rather obvious jokes.
Now, have I mentioned that these shows are equal-opportunity offenders? Even the intermission offered a pair of cheerleaders chanting a list of "terrorist" groups they'd love to see killed. The only group NOT on this list is probably their own—rich, white, airheaded girls. There is something even more alarming about outrageous remarks rendered with cute and joyful smiles than those with religious fervor.
What followed was God Bless America by William Morton, a diverting, over-the-top show about a president-gone-wild. You don't see the president's breasts, but you do get to see him in a bra. Why? It is all a part of his brilliant plan to stay in office for four more years, and yet another dress is involved. Scary? It should be. The problem is that hardly anything could be scarier than the real headlines nowadays, so the parody didn't entirely work for me.
The standout of the night was Goebbels! One Night Only! Live from Hell! by Scott Munson, a piece of brilliantly conceived and acted social commentary. Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister and right-hand man for Hitler, is in Hell and must answer a few questions, among them, how had the Nazis supposedly won the war, as the propaganda machine claimed?
So a lot of torture takes place, and two devils have a great deal of fun injecting a huge shot of "pop culture" through Goebbels's, well, behind, to induce truth-telling. True to form, Goebbels asserts that the Nazi fascist influence is everywhere in American pop culture, from the way Americans "worship" German cars—Porsche! BMW! Mercedes!—to the so-called journalists who use techniques reminiscent of his own wartime propaganda: "I love how they categorize things... and the hyphens they use... to get exactly the right degree of racial identity. We did that too!"
So the Nazi wins the day! A feverish Goebbels leaps about and shows you how mesmerizing Hitler must have been at the top of his game. Jerrod Bogard is almost manic as Goebbels, and perfectly so. Davis Berry as one of the devils is devilishly adorable. Director Kenny Wade Marshall knows how to make Munson's intelligent script funny and all the Satan jokes new again.
This is indicative of a good Bad Play—it is outrageous; it is relentless; and it is delicious. Go to the festival and have some nasty fun. The guilty pleasure is actually cleansing in its own devious way.