The Toxic Avenger Musical
Good People Theater Company at Sacred Fools Theater [show closed]
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
Jared Reed, Kim Dalton, Danny Fetter, Shirley Anne Hatton, Wesley Tunison
Photo by Rich Clark
As a young couple (Danny Fetter and Wesley Tunison) gleefully begin their soon ill-fated date, planning to go see a stage musical adapted from a movie “people watched when they were stoned,” The Toxic Avenger Musical’s book writer Joe DiPietro makes the slyly amusing point that perhaps his musical’s audiences might be thinking they’re doing the same thing. Based on Troma Entertainment’s 1984 deliciously campy cult classic feature film, which seemed to have been made on a budget of about $14.58 and yet soared to the tippy-top of midnight cinema fame, getting high isn’t a prerequisite to appreciating this musical, but the concept shouldn’t be taken off the table altogether.
Whatever state you’re in while watching the Good People Theater Company’s Los Angeles debut of DiPietro and David Bryan’s hilariously bare-boned 2009 work will do quite fine, as Toxie and his friends—played by a determinedly goofy ensemble of five spectacular performers—offer a truckload of laughs and some wonderfully tongue-firmly-in-cheek fun for anyone willing to groan through a nonstop succession of cleverly trendy double-entendres, many aimed directly at Chris Christie’s mega-polluted and beleaguered, er, Garden State.
Playing both our monstrously mutated hero Toxie and the desperately nerdy Melvin Ferd the Third from whom Toxie is horrifically transformed after Tromaville, N.J.’s, resident bullies dip him in a green-glowing vat of toxic waste—not only deforming him horribly but also making him “smell like Newark”—Jared Reed is a major asset to this production. He has the help of Zorro J. Susel, who designed the poor guy’s colorfully dripping facial makeup complete with one dislodged eye residing somewhere on the hollow part of his left cheek. Kim Dalton is a scream as Toxie/Melvin’s love interest Sarah, the town’s blind librarian with a penchant for almost walking off the front of the stage, pouring Drano into her guest’s tea instead of sugar, and impressively belting her songs directly out onto Santa Monica Boulevard.
Shirley Anne Hatton is extraordinarily game to try anything, whether she’s playing a traditionally clad foul-mouthed nun, Melvin’s Mrs. Wolowitz-come-to-life of a mother, or Tromaville’s villainously cackling and supremely evil Mayor Babs Belgoody. Still, in a breakneck series of multiple roles tagged collectively as Black Dude and White Dude, Fetter and Tunison steal the show over and over again, whether entering as those dimwitted bullies Sluggo and Bozo, as the Supremes-esque cross-dressing Shinequa and Diane, or as uber-gay hairdressers Lorenzo and Lamas. Tunison is a particular knockout throughout with his impressive pipes, wide Joe E. Brown smile, and a body language that appears inspired by Roy Bolger’s Scarecrow.
Musical director Corey Hirsch and his rocking onstage band ace the catchy score composed by Bon Jovi founder and keyboardist Bryan, who also co-wrote the sharply topical lyrics with the equally ingenious DiPietro. The ultimate star of the show, however, is director Janet Miller, whose wit and humor is everywhere. Miller puts her signature on all she touches, from moments when the “manageably handicapped” walking disaster that is Sarah returns her misplaced library books to a nonexistent shelf to moments when Sarah cuddles her teddy bear upside-down so the toy’s butt lingers right under her nose as she delivers a plaintive ballad declaring her love for Toxie.
This is especially true when black-clad assistant stage manager Rebecca Schroeder enters periodically to hold up signs telling us where each new scene is about to take place, something developed out of necessity, according to Miller, because the production could not afford to add them all into the program. Schroeder’s hysterically irritated attitude, as she endlessly repeats the bit and the actors stop to stare at her as if she were yet another mutant, becomes a delightful part of the show, culminating when she tries to keep up with the others by attempting to join in on their 11th-hour tango.
Who could turn down a feel-good musical about nuclear waste, we’re asked, and the answer is clear: anyone who is sick of the real world and could use a couple of hours to escape it—or perhaps daydream about just which current crop of politicians we’d love to see dumped into their own personal vat of smoldering toxic waste.
June 27, 2016
Tennessee Williams UnScripted
Reviewed by Dink O’Neal
Ryan Smith, Lauren Rose Lewis, and Nick Massouh
Photo by Sasha Venola
With the faint metaphorical scent of magnolias lingering in the air and more than enough Southern charm to fill the bill, this brilliantly multifaceted group of improvisational experts pays homage to one of America’s greatest playwrights. Sparked only by the offering of an audience-suggested family heirloom (on opening night, it was a brass bowl), director Brian Lohmann along with cast and crew set out on a hilarious trek through the literally unknown.
Due to the company’s rotating set of cast members, not only is the storyline a mystery to all concerned but its development is no doubt influenced by whoever has pulled duty at any given performance. On the night reviewed, Lohmann and a stalwart half-dozen took the bull by the horns, leaving the enthusiastically supportive audience rolling in the aisles.
Some characterizations, more than others, were clearly modeled after those from Williams’s better-known works such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Floyd Van Buskirk’s performance as Mr. Toby, proprietor of a mountaintop resort in Florida (the source of oxymoronic humor throughout the show) was slyly reminiscent of Burl Ives’s Big Daddy, including an otherwise unexplained second-act appearance in a wheelchair. Meanwhile, Kelly Holden Bashar, playing the sultry Melinda Fairweather, channeled a perfectly executed knockoff of Elizabeth Taylor’s Maggie. Holden Bashar’s interactions with her sympathetically forlorn husband Robert “Bobo” Fairweather, played by Lohmann, and Ryan Smith’s mysteriously sensual Chance, a stranger to this group of vacationers, were remarkably well-crafted and effective in advancing the plotline.
Ably toting the water bucket of humor were Dan O’Connor and Kari Coleman as the blue-collared Richmond “Skudge” McHenry and his hypochondriacally discombobulated wife, Roberta. O’Connor was a master of snarkiness as he capitalized on details and missteps offered by his fellow actors, while Coleman’s ability to interject with character-driven non-sequiturs was spot-on perfect.
Likewise, Edi Patterson was a stitch as Carnelian, the resort’s chief cook and bottle washer, whose bizarre name came about during a moment in which she and Lohmann became temporarily tongue tied. Instances such as these are what make witnessing this company’s work so much fun due in no small part to the adroitness with which they are able to mine comic gold from a mere hesitation or slip of the brain. It’s never done as a Gotcha but rather from the collective refusal to pass up an opportunity to add to the chaos.
While the onstage shenanigans take part on designer Michael C. Smith’s appropriately crafted scenery—complete with wicker porch furniture, ivy-covered clapboard walls, and even a corrugated tin moon conspicuously hung upstage center—there’s collusion afoot in the tech booth. Stage manager Madison Goff is responsible for lighting the show as it progresses, while her assistant, Alex Caan, adds musical underscoring and sound effects. What’s most interesting is the influence they have, at times, on just how long a scene plays out or is brought to completion. It’s a symbiotic relationship that rarely fails.
On the night reviewed, the production offered a perfectly constructed arc of middle, beginning, and end. Revelations and rebirth of relationships came to a believable conclusion much as with Williams’s seriocomic pieces. What any other performance in this run turns out to be is what makes attending this company’s work a visit marked by anticipatory excitement.
June 22, 2016
17–July 31. 4252 Riverside Dr. Fri 8pm, Sat 4pm & 8pm, Sun 4pm.
$29–44. (818) 955-8101.
The Engine of Our Ruin
Victory Theatre Center
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
Steve Hofvendahl and Tim Ryan Meinelschmidt
Photo by Tim Sullens
In a season when our country’s fractured political system is at the pinnacle of comedic illogicality, the world premiere of Jason Wells’s hilarious and smartly absurd play corresponds with the reality show unfolding around us. “If we’re the smartest thing on earth,” a character comments on the flawed and destructive nature of humans, “it’s because we figured out how to do the measuring.”
Inhabiting a luxurious hotel suite in an unnamed Middle Eastern country—kudos to Evan Bartoletti’s spectacularly appointed set and prop designer Alessandra Hajaj’s subtle but suitably gaudy accoutrements, described in the script as resembling a Byzantine whorehouse—a team of American diplomats has been sent by the US government to broker a deal with the foreign country’s scary powder keg of a regime. The idea is to exchange some of our obscenely overflowing corn surplus for anything that will reduce mistrust between the two governments. But, thanks to a hired interpreter with an agenda of her own, things go awry more rapidly than in a farce by Ken Ludwig, even without the slamming doors.
Under the sure and solid directorial hand of Maria Gobetti, whose crafty and wonderful little physical bits and touches are everywhere and enhance Wells’s tale immeasurably, a stellar ensemble cast works through the ever-increasing misunderstandings and foibles that, although beginning as a simple mission that could have probably ended with a friendly handshake and a back-slapping trip downstairs to the hotel’s bar, turns into a convoluted mess that could initiate World War III if not quelled in a hurry.
One of the slyest and most daring conceits here unfolds in the first scene, in which the American contingent (Tim Ryan Meinelschmidt, Shannon McManus, Gregory Hoyt, and Spencer Rowe) meets with the other country’s top diplomat (Brian Abraham) and his gung-ho assistant (Ryan P. Shrime), and the sabotage from the female interpreter (Zehra Fazal) begins immediately.
No matter how innocently the Americans offer their corn, told by their higher-ups that it makes no difference what they get in return as long as it eases tensions, everything they say is instead misinterpreted to mandate equality for the country’s women and demand the creation of a Women’s School of Law and Engineering unless they want war.
The difficult task here for Gobetti and her actors is that, although both groups speak two languages, all the dialogue is delivered in English—although the performers morph from proper English to Borat-speak whenever they try to communicate in the other’s tongue. This takes a few minutes for the audience to grasp. Once the ideas and the rhythms are established, however, the effect is impressive.
At first, Meinelschmidt seems to be annoyingly oratorical, as though barking all his lines in homage to the late Phil Hartman, but this bombastic speaking voice—which beyond his character’s stuffy Eastern seaboard upper-crusty exterior reveals a sincere effort to his serve his country and ace what he sees as an important mission—is totally intentional. It’s a risky choice for actor and director, but it’s a brilliant choice. Hoyt is also a standout as his goofy, terminally clumsy aide who wants to get all this hokum done so he can party hearty, as is Rowe as the understated security guy who just may or not be a plant from the CIA.
As their government overseer, Steve Hofvendahl takes his one long scene, wearily, grumpily trying to make Meinelschmidt’s green envoy get his convoluted drift, which involves possibly disposing the country’s dictator, and steals the show. As Hofvendahl blasts the stupidity and naively pretentious demeanor of his government’s chosen negotiator, he clearly defines what a world-wearying job it is to pull the strings of international politics, finally, with a maddened headshake, whining to the skies that what he’s trying to suggest is the most exasperating act of treason he’s ever been assigned to commit.
This is a beautifully written, exceptionally mounted, wonderfully shrewd topical comedy. But, for all of us reeling from the fears and threats that ignite the world with hostilities and rampant paranoia, if you’re not already scared out of your wits that our planet could be doomed by the ridiculousness of our destructive actions, when you wipe away the tears of laughter, this play should do the trick.
June 2, 2016
May 27–July 17. 3324-6
W. Victory Blvd., Burbank. Ample street parking is available; additional parking
at the Northwest Branch Library, directly across from the theater.
Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 4pm. $24-34. (818)
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