by Matthew A. Everett • August 10, 2008 •
There was no best thing I saw on Thursday.
It ended up being a three-way tie between productions that all had their high points, but all ended up settling somewhere just above the middle of the rating scale. So I’ll list them in the order that I saw them…
3-1/2 stars – Recommended
They had me right up until the end.
It was, as ever, Four Humors’ blend of good writing and equally good performance (though I could have done with a little less shouting and berating in the second half – a little goes a long way).
The set-up was clever – a set of traveling snake oil salesman plying their wares to a hopefully gullible public. The actors, writers and director tweaked this premise in amusing and unexpected ways.
The secret of what lies in their steamer trunk is what the play hinges on, so I’m loathe to give it away. But it was when that secret was released, in the play’s final minutes, that the whole thing seemed to come unglued.
It was a play that was built on a host of lies, naturally, given the nature of these men’s business. But it seemed, up to a point, to be governed by a set of rules, its own reality with a recognizable structure that one could follow. Once the trunk was opened, it seemed like the script was trying to have it both ways, and they lost me. Talking to others afterward, more holes in the logic of the thing started to become apparent.
It was still entertaining, and a hell of a premise. I know these guys can deliver on that premise. It’s just not quite there yet.
You can find them, and all the many things that are next at www.fourhumorstheater.com
3-1/2 stars – Recommended
I now know more unusual phraseologies for masturbation than I ever imagined possible.
Any collection of sketches is going to have its ups and downs. There were a lot of moments of originality here which were quite enjoyable. The personal monologues which each member of the ensemble got to share were among the best dramatic moments. A steady diet of that, I know, would have been perhaps too earnest, but I found myself wishing for more moments of that kind of honesty, and less the straining to make the audience laugh.
The more successful comedic bits were things like the aforementioned masturbation tutorial as a basement discussion over video games (which had its own moments of truth nicely played, threaded throughout the overall comedy). Also, a boy behind the wheel of a car, dogged by his roiling emotions, each represented by an actor taunting him with a stuffed monkey on a stick (no, that’s not another euphemism for masturbation). Two guys engaging in the awkward ritual of standing side by side at a urinal, while other actors as their inner voices crashed from one unfortunate thought into another, made for a lot of laughs.
Some literal bits on video game reality, cheating in sports, and dealing with sexuality and identity issues were less successful, but overall the impulse behind this work was quite admirable. When it worked, it almost made up for the times that it didn’t. I’d like to see them keep working on this piece so that the whole thing rises to the level of their best material, both comic and dramatic. The talent on display says they’re capable of doing just that.
You can find what’s next at www.youthperformanceco.com
3-1/2 stars – Recommended
What surprised me about my response to this was the things I felt were missing.
There were still a whole lot of the things I expected from Maximum Verbosity, the signature humor and smarts, even some familiar material seen in past showcases (all of which was welcome).
But certain parts, like the meeting of the Peace League, or the Zombie political debate, seemed to make their point (good points to be made), and then keep bludgeoning it home, like maybe the audience missed it the first four or five times. There, I was missing an editor.
Also, a sequence in which an actor, himself a playwright, portrays a playwright, there I was missing a clear sense of definition. The writer was made the object of ridicule, I get that. But what was the writer of the piece driving at? There were discussions wrapped up in that about art, race and the notion of language and its power to inflict harm as well as good. To have a healthy skepticism about anything a character says on stage is a good thing. But for an audience to have no bearings at all as to what the larger piece is trying to say (whether you agree with it or not) that’s just muddy.
That said, there was still enough good material here to raise it above your average Fringe offering. As always, I look forward to more, and doubtless debating it over drinks afterward. Bad theater would be the kind I didn’t care about at all. Promising theater is the kind that bugs me. Maximum Verbosity, once again, bugs me.
They’re mighty active between Fringes, so check them out online at www.maximumverbosityonline.org
Entering his sixth year of blogging about the Minnesota Fringe Festival (and bringing Mom along for the ride as a guest reviewer), Matthew A. Everett is also a local playwright and three-time recipient of grant support from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Information on Matthew and his plays can be found at matthewaeverett.com.