Saturday, August 13, 2016

Review: Launch The Comedy Rocket!

By Michael Block

Remember the Sony hack a few years ago? You know the one. When “The Interview,” the satirical stoner comedy about Kim Jong-un, was set to be released and the e-mails of Sony Pictures Entertainment were hacked along with a threat if the film was released. In Zach Stephens’ Tailspin!, a fictionalized version of the events are brought to the stage in an absurdly fast-paced comedic satire. Stephens’ script is funny and energetic but be warned: everyone should get ready to be offended. Stephens places race, gender, and religious jokes all over the place to hammer home his comedy. If you can get past that then you’re in store for fun. Tailspin! follows the intensely high-strung Henry as he and his compadres at Babylon Pictures attempt to defuse the aftermath of a company-wide hack ahead of the release of “The Girlish Tendencies of Kim Jong-un.” Ranging from slapstick comedy to vaudevillian clowning, the team must stop Kim Jung-un before he sets a rocket straight for LA. Even though it runs about an hour and a half, Tailspin! feels a bit too long. Some of the jokes go on longer than they should. Stephens has material ripe for the axing. The rest of the material? There’s some good stuff! Littered with pop culture references and infamous movie quotes, Tailspin! is an homage to Hollywood comedies we know and love. From “Clue” to “Airplane” to Charlie Chaplin, Stephens clearly has a passion for the genre. Whether the references hit you or go over your head, they’re present. Henry was the strongest written character. The rest? They filled stereotypical roles.
It’s evident that Tailspin! oozes potential. It just needs to be reigned in. And fast. To give credit where credit is due, director Kelly Webb was able to have her company amp up the tempo and keep it up. The stamina is undeniable. Despite the thrown together feel, the company didn’t let physical flubs stand in their way. Webb navigated the Kraine stage with ease, even with three large folding tables at center stage. Beyond that, Webb seemed to run into some trouble. At times, the direction felt unfocused. Stylistically, Stephens and Webb offered a plethora of comedic styling that didn’t always mesh together. You have pretty slapstick physical comedy from Henry and then suddenly the lawyers arrive, bringing some clowning. Not all the characters, or the actors, were on the same page and thus the same play. Where writing ends and direction begins is a giant question. Nevertheless, honing in and creating a cohesive world will be of much aid to Tailspin!.
It’s no secret, Zach Stephens wrote a great vehicle for himself. Stephens was head over heels the strongest comedian on stage. He’s a pristine comedic performer. From the start, Stephens maintained a high-strung character in Henry, offering variations in each situation. Kelsey Lea Jones as Mia was tough as nails. The combo of Stephens and Jones were strong duo. They bounced off one another with ease. Playing the slightly racist but overly naughty Olivia, Elizabeth Zephryine McDonough captured everything that is wrong with Hollywood bigwigs. Despite Duran Duran and Samm Hamm not quite fitting in this world properly, the rest of Stephens’ characters have a better shot at existing in this world. Unfortunately Dick Ward as janitor Bernard and Jacob Presson as intern Isaac seemed out of place. Chalk it up to casting, but Ward and Presson seemed lost in Tailspin!.
It’s hard to imagine this play without Zach Stephens not playing Henry but once he steps out and sits solely in the playwright’s chair, Tailspin! can reach the next level. Changes are inevitable. Once they happen, Tailspin! is ready to play again. If anything, this was a strong outing to present the animated comedic talents of Zach Stephens.