Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Minnesota Fringe Festival - Review - The Education of Murrary Sanderson - What's the Point? (No, Really)

Tweet Review - The Education Of Murray Sanderson - 1/2 doz. strong actors trapped in funny but predictable script w/no clear reason 4 being - 3 stars

I'm in the minority here, but The Education of Murray Sanderson felt like filler to me.  Somebody had 45 minutes of Fringe time to fill, and that works out to about two episodes of your standard sit com melded together, a very special episode, if you will.  This is what they came up with.

"I'm clinically incapable of stereotyping.  I have a degree in gender studies."

The reason this show rates three stars rather than two or two and a half is entirely the doing of the production team.  This cast is working their butts off to infuse these characters with a little humanity.  The director, Samantha Harris, is clearly doing the same.  This is also one of the more complex, reality-based sets I've seen in this space and in the Fringe at large this year.  It was necessary.  The need for a door and desks in particular was strongly indicated by the script.  The group that mounted this production gave the script more support than it dared hope for, and more than it likely deserves.  So I have to tip my hat to all of them for trying so damn hard.

"My phone's dead.  It's never dead.  I charge it aggressively."

But honestly, what's the point?  I'm asking that quite literally.  Because Murray doesn't get educated.  And neither do we. 

"How'd you like it if I came into your house and feng-shuied the shit out of your furniture?"

Is the script funny?  Sure, in a one punchline follows the next kind of way.  Is the humor based in three-dimensional human characters and situations?  No.  The humor is based in stereotypes.  Because we don't need to examine in any substantive way why our society and/or educational system is so screwed up.  We need to make fun of white suburban parents one more time.  Because they're such a big easy target.  Just push the button and cue the laugh track.

"I hope they can pixilate my face like on To Catch A Predator."

Humor can be smart.  Humor can be scathing.  Humor can be deeply moving.  Here, it isn't.  The pond is deep but the stones just skip along the surface and keep things light.  We should demand more from our comedy than merely being anesthetized.  Certainly everyone involved in this production deserved more than they got in terms of source material.

"You can say fuck, although I think that would be ironic."

Four parents are trapped in a classroom in some pseudo-No Exit scenario, unable to leave until they have learned their lesson.  What did they need to learn?  Retail worker nebbish Byron (Nate Morse) needed to learn to stand up for himself and just kiss the girl.  Brassy iconoclast Jill (Courtney McLean) needed to learn to give a nebbish like Byron a chance to get in her pants.  Long-suffering suburban housewife Liz (Maureen Tubbs) needed to learn to stop apologizing for her husband's toolish ways and stand up and ask for the sex she deserves. 

"I thought we were going to read to each other tonight."
"I'll be home before your can say Nicholas Sparks."

Worldly janitor Milt (Zach Coulter) didn't need to learn anything really.  He just had to bide his time in the purgatory of the school janitorial staff (because really, what could be a worse fate, huh?) until his replacement in doing penance came along. 

"Would it sound creepy if I didn't have this facial hair?"

Mrs. S (Andrea Klaassen) is the powerful overseer in charge of these people's fates, so no learning necessary there.  She just keeps them waiting for… no good reason, unless it is perhaps to get them to break down psychologically and start turning on each other, somehow leading to a personal epiphany for each.  Perhaps the S stands for… Satan!  OK, probably not.  She's some sort of omniscient entity who particularly enjoys zeroing in on the misdeeds of white upperclass men and somehow putting them in their place.

"I'm never over the line.  I AM THE LINE!"

And Murray (David Kappelhoff, and/or Jason Bindas).  Oh, Murray.  Obsessive compulsive, embodiment of straight white male privilege Murray.  Where to begin?  Never mind, really.  He's an important, belligerent, spastic sort of fellow.  It's clear that Murray's holding on by a very thin thread here.  His raging neuroses are just barely contained under that blustery veneer.  He protects himself by projecting his asshole-ishness out to everyone around him.  It's a douchebaggery forcefield that's enormously effective at sucking up all the air in the room and deflating any real forward motion of the plot.

"He's having a panic attack."
"He was being an asshole."
"That's how his panic attacks look."

These actors are all working so hard to create human beings out of punchlines, I think they deserve some sort of special commendation.  If you crave the entertainment equivalent of fast food, something that fills an empty space but provides no nourishment, then The Education of Murray Sanderson is a way to shut off your brain and just coast for an hour while someone prods your funny bone reflex.  I'll admit to laughing, but there was no joy in it.

"This is moist."
"I'm flustered."

You should write because you need to write.  Because you have something you need to say.  Because there's a character that demands to live and be watched by others.  Because there's a story that will not let you be.  Because there is an injustice or absurdity that needs dismembering with the tools of comedy, drama, music, movement, puppets, something.  You shouldn't write just because you committed to a time slot and your computer is on and the word processing program is open.

There's no reason for the current version of The Education of Murray Sanderson.  In a festival where so many people are pushing themselves and trying to create something new and make people think, it's the kind of time-waster than makes me angry.

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