Sunday, August 08, 2010

Fringe 2010 - The Damn Audition - 4-1/2 stars

Incredibly Smart and Wickedly Funny, But...

The Damn Audition - Rarig Thrust

Joking Envelope

"(on cell phones) I just do this weird thing where I exercise my free will and choose not to answer it."

Every now and again, more often than I care to admit, I have a moment where I say something and then think, "Oh, dammit. That was my 'out loud' voice, wasn't it? I meant to keep that one in my head." Chatting with fellow Fringers right after leaving a performance of The Damn Audition, we were asked our opinion of the show. Mom and I both agreed it was incredibly smart and wickedly funny, then I blurted out, "and it was almost *about* something." The raised eyebrows of one of my friends clued me into the fact that, yes, I had just said that last thing out loud. But then he gestured to his theatergoing companion next to him and said, "She had the same reaction."

"I want you to remove my socks from my body with your acting."

Three actors, a tabloid-crazy former child actor (John Middleton), a B-list perennial TV guest star (David Mann), and an up and coming actor straight out of community theater in Minnesota (Randy Reyes), are all up for the part of the Devil in the new TV comedy "What's Up Satan?" ("a comedy with moments of dramatic relief.") They must perform at the whims of an edgy film director (Joseph Scrimshaw) slumming in TV to create his own infinite revenue stream, aided by his long-suffering jaded assistant (Maggie Chestovich).

"There are a limited number of laughs in the world."

Well, you couldn't prove that last quote by writer/director Joseph Scrimshaw's output. The man is a seemingly endless font of jokes. And not just any jokes. Jokes that are well-constructed, based in character, and - wait for it - actually funny. The audience at the performance Mom and I attended were howling with laughter. We were among the many in the crowd enjoying ourselves thoroughly. This, despite the fact that plays about actors, writers and directors normally bore me to tears. Any tears here would be tears of laughter. I was scribbling madly the whole hour trying to get down on paper just a few of the really great laugh lines that had people rolling.

"Fucking Nazis have ruined evil for everyone!"

But here's the thing. I found myself wishing for a couple of moments of that "dramatic relief." It's the same reason I prefer Neil Simon's earlier plays like "The Sunshine Boys" to later ones like "Rumors." "Rumors" is funny. It's so well-crafted it's frightening. You laugh while reading it, and seeing it just makes it funnier. But you forget it the second it's over. "The Sunshine Boys" sticks in my gut because underneath all the laughs, and there are a whole lot of laughs, there is a vein of pain and heartache that runs very, very deep. It makes these characters real people, and causes us to care about them, and remember them.

"I find myself wondering, 'Could you shut the fuck up?!'"

Mom keeps steering me back to the play at hand. "You can't review it or fault it because it's not the play you wish it was. You have to review the play for what it is." What The Damn Audition is, is an extremely intelligent, funny play, acted by a who's who of great Twin Cities actors with an impeccable sense of comic timing, directed by someone who never lets the pace flag, and never lets the audience get too far ahead of the script. It's full of surprises, and lots and lots of humor.

"I'm in between religions right now."

But nobody's getting their heart broken, because everyone in this play, without exception, is essentially heartless. You can't hurt them. They won't bleed. TV is an easy mark. People living in LA, particularly people in show business are a big juicy target. Because the Randy Reyes' character - Hugh Johnson (don't have to spell that one out, do I?) is from Minnesota, you also get your Midwestern hick jokes. I'm not saying it's not funny. It's criminally funny. I laughed almost as much as anyone else in the audience.

"Did you know that bad acting actually leaves a smell?"

But I also kept waiting for the bigger punchline that never landed. What if the script wasn't bad? What if this was that blessed rarity, good television? What if they were really invoking the spirit of Satan? What if this play were really about the evil that people do to one another - not genocide, but the little cuts and shocks that make genocide that much more possible, because we see it on the news, and war on the news, and starvation on the news, and poverty on the news, and we just change the channel because we just don't care? And yes, people desperate for fame and fortune are far more likely to make a Faustian bargain and let their humanity slip away little by little. But doesn't that make them "those people over there." We're not like them. We're basic decent ordinary folk. We don't inflict any kind of evil on one another. Do we? Maybe the problem is with the definition of evil. We get away with the little things because evil these days is always spelled with a capital E, and someone else is always doing something worse than any one of us might let ourselves do.

I guess the director character in the play is right, f**king Nazis really have ruined evil for everyone.

I can feel Mom looking over my shoulder again (even though she's on the highway to Indianapolis right now), so I'll stop.

The Damn Audition is everything you've learned to expect from Joseph Scrimshaw - hilarious script, sharp production values all the way around, and some of the best actors you're likely to see on a Fringe stage. For all those reasons, despite my random tangents, that makes this Fringe show...

4-1/2 stars, Very Highly Recommended

NEXT PERFORMANCE - Wednesday 8/11 at 10pm

(Then Saturday 8/14 at 2:30pm, and Sunday 8/15 at 4pm)

Their Fringe page

Fringe show #20 - Sunday, 8/8 7pm


And here's a handy index of links for all blog content on the 2010 Fringe!

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