Saturday, July 27, 2013

Toil and Trouble

A poor script wastes the talents of Know

     When Neil saw the publicity shot for Know Theatre’s Toil and Trouble and read the blurb, he thought it might be like a hilarious show we saw by Adobe Theatre Off-Broadway years ago.  Know Theatre has produced some excellent work this
past season and had the biggest turnout for the Fringe Festival in its history back in May – June. There are some fun surrealistic lighting (Andrew Hungerford) and sound (Doug Borntrager) elements in the thirty minute second act of Toil and Trouble.  Now comes the bad news:  Toil and Trouble by Lauren Gunderson is the type of script that might read well, but doesn’t play well and probably should not be produced.

     It would seem like a good idea to present a new comedy that speaks of the downward mobility of the Millennium Generation, refers to film noir in a satirical way, and alludes to Macbeth before surrealistically transposing some of those story elements to the main conflict and into the plot.  ‘Seem’ is the operative word.  There are
Playwright Lauren Gunderson
writers that might be able to handle these disparate elements, but Gunderson isn’t one of them.  This is the type of script that started when a professor during her MFA program said “write a modern take off on a Shakespeare tragedy and make it funny.”  It’s a good writing prompt, but it requires rewriting and really looking at whether it can make it on its feet.  At times, it seems to feel like a revue sketch that was stretched beyond its breaking point of about twenty-five minutes.  None of those disparate elements works because Gunderson doesn’t commit to exploring any of them with any depth, wit, or originality.

Breona Conrad and Chris Wesselman*
     The basic set-up is how a dullard, a blowhard, and a shrew come up with the most harebrained scheme imaginable involving a takeover of a mini-island of vicuñas.  They actually think it will make them an enormous fortune, but greed gets in the way and the shrew decides to use the dullard to kill the blowhard and, frankly, I couldn’t have cared less.  Why they couldn’t have found jobs as baristas or temps, we’re never told (though they are a dullard, blowhard, and shrew), but it robs the characters of any situational credibility whatsoever.  From the initial scene between the two male characters and the detailed set, it felt like it was going to be a realistic comedy, like an updated Friends or Seinfeld episode or an examination with depth that Kenneth Lonergan might have written.  (How expensive would it be to produce This is Our Youth or Lobby Hero, both excellent scripts never produced locally)?

"MattBeth" Joshua Murphy and Conrad*
     Joshua Murphy does everything he can as the dullard and his use of physical comedy in his nervous snorting and rolling off a sofa were highlights.  Chris Wesselman has done some terrific work at NKU, Know, and New Stage Collective, but without a clear character, he flails desperately to be funny.   He’s developed a spitting habit, which isn’t pleasant, but he’s usually entertaining.  However, as the show dragged on, his volume increased and so did his sweating.  I thought he might be having a heart attack and then, thankfully, the show ended.  Breona Conrad is stuck with a miserably misogynistic role as an aggressive and failing career woman, who’s supposedly alluring.  A fit and loud performer, Conrad doesn’t shade the character (barely one-note as written) with any hint of charm, subtlety, sexiness, or intelligence.  Why are these guys interested in this woman?  Why doesn’t she see that their plan is stupid?  Why does Laurenson present the female character in such a horrible scene initially (she seems to be screeching at the audience as stand-ins for the baseball fans supposedly surrounding her) that there’s little way for any actor to recover empathy?

     I guess this is supposed to be a satire about this generation’s entitlement and laziness, but then why put in a half-hearted coda about how it was all a misunderstanding and the three should be friends again?   Eric Vosmeier, who’s directed with flair and sensitivity in the past, does what he can here.  I wish he could just have demanded an overhaul by the playwright or commissioned an MFA candidate from CCM to come up with a ninety minute comedy; I can’t imagine it would have been weaker than this.

Toil and Trouble runs through August 24, 2013.

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