Saturday, August 29, 2015

Review: Putting the Funny in Faith

From the whacky world of Dina Laura comes Elephants and Other Worldly Dilemmas, a comedy where slapstick, gross out humor, and puns unite. At the core, the play is about faith and finding faith, love and finding love, and humanity and finding humanity. Laura puts a comedic spin on it to avoid the sappiness. Broken up into two acts, the first act follows secretary Martha as she is forced to face her fears by assisting lab rat Seth and the oddly timed temp Fred dissect an elephant. In the second act, the true identity of the temp is revealed as he endures his own celestial temptations. Laura's script so desperately wants to play like Monty Python but only a third of the cast can handle that style of comedy. As a unit, it is revealed that the focal journey of the play is on Fred, the angelic temp. Yet Laura doesn't give him that focus. To show that he is the one we should be ultimately keying into and allowing the first act to live as it does, some sort of prologue needs to occur to start the show. Otherwise a different message shines through.
Laura's writing is quite interesting. And in the right hands, it's comedy gold. John Olson as Seth and Sal proved this very true. Olson is a stage version of the Frat Pack boys of film. He is lovably goofy and hilarious. His physical comedy is top notch. Olson was such a joy to watch. Matt Stapleton as Fred has a Jason Bateman quality in his performance. It's a subtle comedy. It may not induce belly laughs, but he's funny nonetheless. Laura shined in the writers seat and could seriously benefit by taking herself out of the acting track. Laura didn't quite match her costars, occasionally holding jokes and punch lines back. Serving solely as the playwright will help Laura hear the play and decide if the jokes are truly landing or if she should swap in some new ones.
Director Peter Zachari went for the comedy, avoiding any textual issues along the way. As long as the audience laughed, it didn't seem to matter what else was happening. One of the biggest struggles of the play came in the mutilation of the titular elephant. The illustration by Audrey Attardo on the tarp was visually nice but it hurt reality. One way Laura, and Zachari could have capitalized on this bizarre moment was to explore the physical comedy of shadows behind fabric and not let us see the actual items they're pulling out. It's a device that's been done but also can be infinitely rewarding. The costumes were well thought out, and was strongest with Olson. He made every single garment hilarious.
Elephants and Other Worldly Dilemmas is well on its way to something special. But it can't get there without making some big changes. And keeping John Olson forever and for always.