Saturday, October 22, 2016

Review - Masquerade At Bernard’s - Fearless Comedy - 4 stars

The 1980s “buddy comedy with a corpse” movie Weekend At Bernie’s gets the Shakespearean iambic pentameter treatment from the good folks at Fearless Comedy Productions.

That’s probably enough to either entice you to immediately buy a ticket or run screaming in the opposite direction.  It all comes down to how you feel about Weekend At Bernie’s.  If you consider it a dumb but delightfully stupid movie that you can’t help laughing at, then Masquerade At Bernard’s is the play for you.  If you didn’t feel like you should waste your time on Weekend At Bernie’s when it wasn’t written in verse, I’m not sure this production is going to change your mind.

“Not the Merchant of Venison!”
“The very same.”

The thing is, everyone involved with Masquerade At Bernard’s is clearly involved in a labor of love here.  Weekend At Bernie’s is over 25 years old but it still makes them laugh, and they want to share that laughter with you, so they’ve repackaged it in a way that will make it seem even sillier.  Let’s face it, Shakespeare was not above lowbrow humor.  No matter how serious the script, you can always find a dick joke.  Often a whole lot of dick jokes.  And the comedies - well, the man was obsessed with twins, mistaken identity, and women in drag as men (and, again, dick jokes) so he was hardly taking the high road.  I’m not saying Masquerade At Bernard’s is full of dick jokes, but would Shakespeare have appreciated the slapstick inherent in a couple of guys pretending their dead boss is still alive and hosting a big party at his beach house?  Absolutely.

“My clumsy ways did charm her, it seems.”

I can’t really summarize the plot any better than this random internet synopsis:

“Fun-loving salesmen Richard (Dan Britt) and Lawrence (Trevor Hartman) are invited by their boss, Bernard (Phil Henry), to stay the weekend at his posh beach house. Little do they know that Bernard is the perpetrator of a fraud they've uncovered and is arranging to have them killed. When the plan backfires and Bernard is killed instead, the buddies decide not to let a little death spoil their vacation. They pretend Bernard is still alive, leading to hijinks and corpse desecration galore.”

“Drunken Bawdy Butterflies - methinks I’ve finally found a name for my minstrel group.”

In addition to those basics of the plot there are of course the required love interest for Richard, played here by Tara Lucchino.  There are also the bad guys who decided to kill Bernard in the first place (Matt Allex, and his hitman Matthew Kelly).  Both these guys are bewildered by the fact that Bernard doesn’t seem to stay dead, and so they keep on trying to kill him.  Also in the mix are Lauren Haven, Rachel Flynn, and Mickaylee Shaughnessy, as various party guests, beach dwellers, children, and gravediggers. (Because, if you’re going to give something a Shakespearean gloss, you gotta have a gravedigger.)

“Did he really write ‘Ha ha’?”
“Yes, he also wrote ‘Kill them’”

Director Duck Washington co-wrote this stage adaptation with Brian Watson-Jones, a veteran of the Tedious Brief Fringe shows of recent years which mined a similar vein of satire.  And though as subject matter, Weekend At Bernie’s is no Pulp Fiction (Bard Fiction), or Aliens (Tempests), or heck, even Road House (Mead Hall), the formula still works, mostly because of all the things I’ve said above.  Fearless Comedy loves the original, and loves this take on it; it’s actually not as weird an idea as you first think it is, and the fun they’re having with it translates quite quickly to the right audience.

“I felt sorrow for thee, thou excrement.”

I’ll admit my attention wandered a little bit in the first half, not because the cast was doing anything wrong, but more because it just takes a farce like this a while to wind up and get going.  Once Bernard is dead and it’s time to party with a corpse, though, the thing kicks into high gear.  The fun begins in earnest and keeps on going all the way to the end, when a mischievous youngster finally gives Bernard a proper burial in the sand, and our gravedigger narrator teases the sequel.

“I do not ride as Tawnella does.  I do but watch.”

Masquerade At Bernard’s is a clever premise, executed with a lot of good-natured energy.  Everyone at Fearless Comedy wants you to have a good time.  And they succeed.  Shut off your higher brain functions and just revel in the silliness.  (through October 30, 2016 at Phoenix Theater)

4 Stars - Highly Recommended

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