The late film critic Gene Siskel had a simple test for movies: “Is this movie more entertaining than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?” When Neil Diamond’s “America” started playing during the intermission of Urban Samurai’s Drama a Comedy or: Apocalypse Tuesday at the Sabes JCC, I decided that there should be an equivalent test for plays, and that test should be, “Is this play more entertaining than the same actors improvising an interpretive dance to Neil Diamond’s ‘America’?” In the case of Drama a Comedy, the answer is decidedly no.
Siskel’s former balcony buddy Roger Ebert uses the term “idiot plot” to refer to a plot where every outstanding issue would be immediately resolved if the characters weren’t all complete idiots. Two of the three characters in Drama a Comedy are such complete idiots that it’s a good thing the plot doesn’t call upon them to eat anything: it seems unlikely they’d be able to feed themselves. There are stupid characters, and then there are these two, who are so unbelievably dumb that you stop relating to them as characters in an entertainment and start thinking about the people in front of you as actors reading lines of dialogue written by a playwright, and then it occurs to you that the people involved with the production probably have friends and loved ones, and then you hope for everyone’s sake that those friends and loved ones have pressing business out of town until the show closes on February 21.
|drama a comedy or: apocalypse tuesday, presented through february 21 at the sabes jcc. for tickets ($14-$16) and information, see urbansamurai.org.|
The characters in question are Clarence (Paul Somers) and Gloria (Candace Stimson), a middle-aged married couple whose irrational fear of death is a blessing insofar as it distracts them from their deep loathing for one another. Clarence calls the gas company for an unnecessary safety inspection, and when serviceman Al (Pedro Juan Fonesca), who’s an Arab, shows up, it’s revealed that Clarence and Gloria are also stupidly racist. Not just stupidly racist in the sense that all racism is stupid—they’re stupidly racist in the sense that the sight of any person of color sends them running for their Hazmat suits, certain that he’s a bomb-bearing terrorist.
I appreciate that Clarence and Gloria are meant to be buffoonish characters satirizing the Dockered rednecks with whom many urbanites believe suburbia is populated, but the satire is so broad and the target so underspecified that it’s like stabbing someone with a knife made of marshmallow—it doesn’t hurt, it’s just sticky and annoying. Further, playwright Aaron Christopher gives Clarence and Gloria no straight man to push against or interact with, except for Al—and after a botched seduction attempt by Gloria that’s by far the play’s highlight, Al gets tied up and becomes just another audience member watching his captors’ shenanigans with incredulous discomfort.
Everyone involved with this production has done good work in the past, and will surely do good work again. As for Drama a Comedy, maybe it’s best if we all just try to forget it ever happened.