Wednesday, May 22, 2019

“The Gods Of Comedy”: Madcap, Over The Top Farce Aims To Be A Crowd Pleaser

Old Globe Program Pic
Playwright Ken Ludwig's (“Lend Me A Tenor”) world premiere “The Gods Of Comedy”, in association with McCarter Theatre Center in New Jersey, and currently on the Donald and Darlene Shiley stage of the Old Globe Theatre through June 6th,  is quite a diversion from his last world premiere production at the Globe, “Ken Ludwig’s Robin Hood”.  

His earlier work  “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” that played some years ago, was clever and of course, starred that master of solving crimes Sherlock Holmes who was able to solve the…well you get the picture.

“Robin Hood”, with some gags, swords and bows and arrow fights, plays on words, music and wily humor, was a fun romp and Robin himself was able to serve the poor.

“Lend Me A Tenor”, another farce won three Tony’s and 4 Drama Desk Awards; no slouch, he. “The Gods Of Comedy” his current farce, finds me scratching my head to find anything particularlly wonderful  about this new offering. That said, from the reaction I heard on opening night those young ‘un’s around me sounded pleased, so go know!

If you thought Stephen Sondheim’s “Forum” was a funny, bouncy, farce/spoof on the ancient Romans, you are right. “Gods” is just a plain madcap silly and over the top farce with humor and laugh bites, groaning and gfawing coming from a certain age group in the audience.  But to the greater audience who, at this time in history, might just be looking for something, anything to chuckle about,the laughs came fast and furious. 

With all the hyperbole and shots across the bow going on in Washington, mega frustration and, dare I say corruption, at least half of the nation, perhaps you among us might be wishing for some special powers to make things right. Say a visit from some gods?
Brad Oscar with Jessie Cannizzaro
“The Gods of Comedy” might just bring you some good news like making all the witnesses subpoenaed appear before you. Or if you were in possession of a rare book, a one of a kind, and it mysteriously disappeared before you had a chance to check it out carefully-yup you would call on the gods to help you as well. 

Ludwig’s latest mish -mash and oft times looking for some coherence,  “Gods’ gets off to a  slow start setting up the characters the likes of whom bear little resemblance to anyone yours truly ever knew or knows now, but it matters not. These guys just have to be funny.

I’m willing to meet new people, like the American scholar Daphne (Shay Vawn) a high strung and almost socially inept young woman sitting outside a café and marketplace in Greece working on her next project; that of directing a production of Euripides’ Medea as part of her internship. (She’s not one of the funnies.)

Scuttling about is Aristide (George Psomas who plays multiple roles) a street vendor who gives her a brief history of Naxos, the island where the myth and legend of Zeus, King of the Gods who was said to have been born (in cave), etc. etc. We will see a reasonable facsimile of him in other roles further on.

In an unusual token of appreciation and before she heads back to her college, he gives Daphne an amulet or charm for helping him in a bind, by telling her to wear it and use it to get help from the ‘gods’ if and when she needs it. (She will need it.)
Shay Vawn and Jevon McFerrin
Add to the high-energy list of characters Professor and classic scholar, Ralph Sargent (Jevon McFerrin) is also vacationing on the island. He can’t believe that he found the complete almost unknown lost text/play written by none other than Euripides’ “Andromeda and Perseus”. (He's not one of the funnies.)

He is in need of someone, anyone to help him organize his notes back at the university. After some gentle persuasion Daphne accepts the job as his assistant.  He gives the manuscript to Daphne for safe- keeping.

By some crazy intervention, Psomas who is now part of the work crew back at the school, well…the book goes bye- bye. Or better yet, in one collective gasp from the audience, he takes to shredding some of the pages! He’s Russian and even then, who can read Greek? As part of his janitorial duties, he gets rid of what he thinks is trash. Wouldn’t you? (He is funny.)
Stephanie Leigh and George Psomas
Meanwhile Dean Trickett (Keira Naughton), Dean of the Collage takes the finding of the ‘find’, the unearthed script, and uses it as the theme for the school’s fundraiser for her alumni Roman Dress party where she dresses up as Artemis. 

Also there, Hollywood actress Brooklyn (Stephanie Leigh) struts about trying to impress those who might be in the know, know she is auditioning for the possible lead if and when the new discovery is to be made into a movie.

As Ludwig’s scripts would have it, neither Daphne nor Ralph knows where or how the precious script went missing, but life goes on, or does it? Let’s just say not as we knew it.

Time for the Gods to intervene and intervene they do with all the bells and whistles the Globe’s fight consultant (Samantha Reading), scenic designer (Jason Sherwood), sound designer (Darren West), lighting designer Brian Gale), choreographer (Ellenore Scott), costumer (Linda Roethke), illusion designer (Jim Steinmeyer) and director worth her weight in garlands, Amanda Dehnert can muster.

Once Dionysus, (an insanely excellent Brad Oscar), God of Comedy and his Muse Thalia, Jessie Cannizzaro, Muse of Comedy and Poetry appear on the scene to save the day for Ralph and Daphne, well it’s a whole new ballgame. Call it Ludwig Chaos 101.   

Brad Oscar, Jessie Cannizzaro and Shay Vawn
When the ‘Gods’ first burst on to the scene they are dressed in their ancient Roman attire but as Dionysus surveys the campus and all the junk food available he turns into food junkie wearing the school colors looking like any other, say freshman chomping on a triple chees burger. If you have ever seen any of the old Jackie Gleason Shows, picture Oscar there.

As for Cannizzaro, she’s equally as nutty but not as over the top as both the nutty professors she is assigned to help. Both, if you hadn’t guessed, were made for each other from the start, something we didn’t (not) know from the outset.

The plot if there is one gets thicker, not funnier. It includes a fundraiser that becomes a gala fashion show with themes of, what else, Ancient Greece (and here is where Linda Roethke’s costumes shine). Lo and behold, Ares (Psomas, such a showman) struts in dressed in his armor and carrying a sword. No one bats an eye. As just another character, he wanders about googling after one of the beautiful glamorous movie stars.
George Psomas and Keira Naughton
Helping the production along is the stunning and well-appointed set by Jason Sherwood. First on the outside veranda in Greece, then the library of the Ralph’s office and outdoor settings of the college campus. As mentioned above, technical support is up to its usual high standards on the Shiley stage, a saving grace for all the visual effects throughout the evening.

The cast is a bit uneven with some traces of strain. Both Psomas and Oscar are at the top of their game. Psomas, while recognizable as Aristide, Aleksi (the Russian janitor) and Ares in his finery goes to the top of the list. He’s funny and charismatic, unassuming yet deer in the headlights, straight laced and amusing as Ares.  

Oscar is just plain right for the role he’s taking on. His all in appeal as the human side of a burger munching student is as funny as his role as God of Comedy, sent down by Zeus to fix a problem here on earth. The right person for the job, he is the god of wine and revelry, ‘a joy for mortals, with a hearty appetite for all things sexual’… he loves the good life and it shows through in Oscar.

Both Vawn and McFerrin work too hard  to be as over the top as they are supposed to be. Fine actors both, these might not be the best roles for them. Their main task, that  of finding a manuscript, gets bounced around, put off and almost becomes irrelavent in a series of daffy off shoots that in the end, ends well.  (It’s a comedy after all.)
Jessie Cannizzaro, Jevon McFerrin, Stephanie Leigh, Brad Oscar and Shay Vawn, 
I can’t believe how many times in a day I say “O God” this or that. I’m going to have to do a mind shift or I may be in big trouble one day.

You be that judge of this one going forward.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through June 16th
Organization: The Old Globe
Phone: 619-234-5623
Production Type: Comedy/Farce
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92103
Ticket Prices: start at $30.00
Venue: Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage
Photo: Jim Cox


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