Local actor Sid Solomon recently asked his Twitter followers if they thought Twin Cities critics grade on a curve. Should they? Walking out of the Bryant-Lake Bowl on Saturday night after seeing Deadwood: The Last Bleeping Episode, I couldn’t help but ask the same question of myself. I didn’t love the show, but a Deadwood diehard might feel differently. Unless you’re a big fan of the HBO series being spoofed by Joking Envelope, this show is probably not for you.
“Deadwood is an actual historical town, with actual historical booze and prostitutes.” Joking Envelope co-founder and Deadwood’s leading man and co-writer, Joseph Scrimshaw makes sure the audience is aware of Deadwood’s historical relevance from the start—in fact, we were asked to repeat this sentence aloud—lest HBO construe the play as a knockoff of its series, which ran from 2004-2006. The play pokes fun at the cult drama, including some jabs at HBO for a lack of multiculturalism and the incorporation of irreverent commercials between scenes. Although Scrimshaw prefaces the show by saying familiarity with the HBO series isn’t required to enjoy the performance, as an audience member whose only interaction with Deadwood was watching actor Ian McShane win a Golden Globe for his role, I must admit I had absolutely no idea what was happening for most of the performance’s 60 minutes.
|deadwood: the last bleeping episode, presented at the bryant-lake bowl through september 25. for tickets ($15) and information, see bryantlakebowl.com.|
Deadwood: The Last Bleeping Episode centers on the mining town of the same name and its inhabitant Al Swearengen (Scrimshaw), a brutally ruthless, foul-mouthed man steered by his own moral compass. When a mysterious newcomer (Tom Poole) arrives in town bringing with him a book of “Yellow Pages,” Swearengen’s control over the town and its inhabitants is threatened. Beyond that, there’s little plot and most of the show is spent watching the town residents (all of whom are played by Phillip Andrew Bennett Low and Jen Scott) interact with Swearengen. Based on the reactions of the audience members who had earlier clapped when asked if they’d seen the TV series, it was clear that those of us who hadn’t were missing out on some pretty big inside jokes. Sexual jokes—of which there were many—seemed obnoxious and vulgar for someone not having the show as context. Still, even within the framework of a script catering only to a niche audience, Scrimshaw’s talent shows. His commitment made some scenes more palpable for those of us in the dark, and a few moments of audience interaction demonstrated his quick wit.
As the play wraps up, the character of Swearengen comments that he is going to open a theater, because a good salesman can sell anything, even something as useless as theater. In fact, I did feel a bit like I’d been had. Grading on a curve, I might give Deadwood: The Last Bleeping Episode a B average, but that wouldn’t be fair to other folks like me who would easily be equally lost and disappointed. So, stay out of Deadwood, unless you’ve been there before.