KPBS AIRDATE: March 31, 2006
If you’ve got a sinking feeling from the rampant rise in gas prices, national debt and global temperatures, what you need is a little comic relief. San Diego stages to the rescue!
Three comedic offerings might tickle your funny bone, or at least make you forget your personal and political pain. One’s a bona fide farcical classic; the others are slightly shopworn wannabes, but all are performed with passion and brio.
The best of the lot, by far, is Joe Orton’s outrageously black comedy, “What the Butler Saw.” The play premiered in 1969, a year and a half after its author’s death at age 34, when he was bludgeoned by his boyfriend. The first audiences were appalled and outraged by the blatant sexuality and attacks on authority and morality, but that’s just the comic ticket for our times. Set in a crazy psychiatric clinic where it’s hard to tell the sane from the certifiable, the play takes potshots at medicine, marriage, religion, family and sexual identity. The sex-obsessed psychiatrist, attempting to seduce a credulous secretary, is interrupted by the arrival of his nymphomaniacal wife, her would-be rapist, a nutcase of a hospital inspector and a dim-witted policeman. The clinic becomes a bedlam of undressing and cross-dressing, mistaken identity, dropped drawers and heightened libidos in this deliciously subversive farce, excellently directed by Peter Cirino and performed with impeccable timing by a gut-busting cast that includes Leigh Scarritt, Brian Salmon, and Doug Lay.
On off-nights at 6th @ Penn Theatre, there’s “The Housekeeper,” a nasty little comic romance written in the early ‘80s by playwright/screenwriter James Prideaux. A pompous, third-rate writer unwittingly hires a bag lady to take care of him and his fading Victorian mansion. These two misfits are drowning in sexual repression, class distinction and self-delusion. The ending is predictable but the journey is rife with frantic chases, slammed doors, attempted murders and unsparing revelations. Rhys Green’s brisk direction could add more the sense of menace. But Dale Morris and Grace Delaney are obviously having a blast, and you may, too, if you ignore the preposterous plotline.
Similarly ludicrous, and even mustier in the humor department is “The Nerd,” the first full-length play by Larry Shue, who starred in the original 1981 production but died in a plane crash four years later, at age 39. The piece is kinda nerdy, like its name, and it doesn’t have much depth, beyond superficial comments on the limits of loyalty, obligation and friendship. But its silly, shticky, over-the-top plot and 1970s Indiana setting provide a field-day for the actors, designers and director at North Coast Repertory Theatre.
Sometimes mindless fun is fine. But I prefer my comedies like my coffee: black and strong.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.