Friday, July 24, 2015

Review: You Got Fool'd!

When you get an idea for a show, there's instant excitement when the creation process begins. Plot gets fleshed out, characters begin to take shape, and a show is born. But what happens when ideas won't stop coming and they all get thrown together because why not? You get Foolerie.
Written by Santino DeAngelo, Foolerie, also known as Foolerie: A Shakespearean Musical Comedy, is a tale of too many ideas. First, you have the set up of a traveling band of fools performing for an audience following in the historical accuracy of performing troops. Second, you have a mashup of Shakespeare references haphazardly thrown together by said band of merry performers in hopes that audience gets the references as they will lead to cheap laughs. Third, you get an existential crisis of the artist causing ideas one and two to be extremely meta. Fourth, you have wannabe rich characters who suddenly, and without warning, develop random love plots and internal conflicts and a moment ripped right from “Star Wars”. And fifth, you have a musical! Because why not break into songs that may or may not further the lack of cohesive plot. It's as if every one of DeAngelo's thoughts fell on the ground, he picked it up way after the five second rule expired, threw it in a blender, and served us a tall glass of recycled material. It all begins with a band of players saying they're looking for a competitor for a fool-off where the loser wins death. And it is true, death is easier than comedy. Out of the contrived nature of the piece, an overdramatic kid comes down the stairs and onto the stage to battle for the king of comedy baton. And that's all the plot you really get. Clarity? Who needs it! Foolerie prides itself on the comedy aspect of the world but to be a comedy, you gotta be funny. DeAngelo offered an abundance of guttural head-shaking jokes. And most of them happened to be tasteless sex jokes. It's evident that comedic greats like Mel Brooks and Monty Python had some sort of influence on DeAngelo. Even the crude humor of Joan Rivers. But they earned their laughs. The jokes in Foolerie come when there's nothing left to say. From sex jokes to gay jokes, I suppose if someone's not offended you're not doing it right. To say the plot was lacking is an understatement. It's a bad sign when the characters reference the lack of plot and confusion. The road map of plot finds itself journeying down infinite dead ends. With a concept needing an extreme makeover, it was worrisome how the score would fair. But DeAngelo does offer some amazing numbers in the fool world. But those sappy songs about artists were duds.
photo by Lance Brown
The ensemble that comprised Foolerie were certainly team players. What they had going for them was their strong ability to become a theatrical family. As the battling fools, Ryan Breslin and Ian Knauer as Knave and Clowne may be the central characters but their arcs are lost within the play within the play. DeAngelo doesn't quite give them room to play subtext. Within the ensemble, the players got to show off their performing chops. As the kinda gay sex crazed Leanard, Patrick Massey brought versatility, despite his character's character running gag of sameness. The most surprising member of the troupe was the under-utilized powerhouse Olivia Polci. Her pipes are Broadway rafter ready. Polci was forced to play a ridiculously silly role of Shakespeare’s “half brother” yet she managed to make herself present despite the joke. The other surprise of the company was a vocal cameo from Gilbert Gottfried as the “Earl of Pearl.” Gottfried was a ticket-selling smart draw but nothing was more painful than listening to a recording of Gottfried hammer an unsavory penis joke into the skulls of the audience.
The collaboration between writer and director is essential for any hope in success. But then there are those rare cases where strong collaborators still end up producing something that doesn't work. It's clear DeAngelo and director Tralen Doler were on the same page and that page was just not the best one. Tonally, Doler seemed to go for the “laugh and they'll forget the plot" strategy. He also borrowed a few tricks from the "give ‘em a spectacle and they won't notice the problems" from the Paulus Playbook: Pippin Edition. It’s true, the overall design of Foolerie was quite possibly the best aspect of the show. It all begins with the onstage seating where you’re bound to get in on the action. And let’s be honest, the largest laugh of the night came from a moment by a good-sported NYMF patron. The way that scenic designer Jen Price Fick transformed the stage was incredible. There was great attention to detail. The costumes by Whitney Locher also allowed detail to shine. Locher’s look was a wonderful Modern Ren Faire chic. The lighting by Matthew J. Fick was colorful and diverse. Though the lenient “rules” of the world should have prevented some of the looks. But who was really paying attention to the rules.
As noted in the program, Foolerie is an example of DeAngelo's youthfulness and immaturity in this medium. There's a line late in the show after the hokiest of hokey reveals about being the fool or being fooled. I think we all got fooled on this one. And that “A Shakespearean Musical Comedy” subtitle? It’s gotta go. Unless getting audience to think they’re seeing Shakespeare is part of the fooling. Then keep it.

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