Previews: 03/30/12- Close: 04/14/12
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Patrick Garrigan
Photo Credit: Gerry Goodstein ©2014 Left to Right: Gerrianne Raphael, Mike Smith Rivera, Evan Thompson and Jarel Davidow
Somewhere between Mel Brooks and Christopher Durang lies the talented Rich Orloff and the world is all the better for it.
To put it quite simply, The WorkShop Theater Company & The Foolish Theatre Company have an unqualified success on their hands with their most recent outing, HA! As the name suggests, this evening of three, one-act plays packs in plenty of laughs and provides a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours tucked inside the intimate Jewel Box Theater.
Each of the three plays delivers a sharp wit and silly sensibility that is deliciously satisfying. The first, Oedi, is a Borscht Belt-inspired retelling of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex in which Oedi is satirically portrayed as a shrewd politician angling to stay ahead in the polls. With exchanges like, “It’s time to practice my musical instrument.” “Lyre?” “No, honestly,” the play gleefully borrows jokes reminiscent of History of the World or Airplane! to winning effect.
Photo Credit: Gerry Goodstein ©2014 Left to Right: Jarel Davidow and Gerrianne Raphael
The second play, The News from St. Petersburg, takes us inside the living room of a Russian aristocratic couple in the afternoon, around 4pm. News arrives from St. Petersburg that the people have risen up against the Tsar, and our bourgeois couple attempts to use reason to figure out what their life in a new Russia might look like. The darkest turn of the evening occurs when it is revealed that not only is there not a new Russia, the Tsar’s Imperial Guard massacred one thousand protesters. While stability is restored, a new uncertainty descends. …But it has funny parts, we promise.
Rounding out the evening is The Whole Shebang. Whisked away to another dimension, we’re privy to a student defending his grad project in the hope of attaining an M.U. degree (that’s Masters of the Universe to you and me). This is no average student however; this is The Almighty and his project? The Heavens and the Earth. To further support his project he presents Mr. & Mrs. Doe for his professors’ consideration. What unfolds is a hilarious exchange in which two “unremarkable” mortals are given the opportunity to share their thoughts on Earth and ask a few questions of The Big Guy himself.
Ric Sechrest’s direction is clever and detailed. In each of the scenes, he has set a tone that is buoyant, funny and occasionally quite touching. He understands Orloff’s work and trusts that it will land.
The five-person ensemble of Jarel Davidow, Anne Fizzard, Gerrianne Raphael, Mike Smith Rivera, and Evan Thompson is top notch and over the course of the evening each performer is given the opportunity to shine. Ms. Raphael’s doting mother/lover Jocasta lands big laughs in Oedi. While Mr. Thompson’s Fyodor in St. Petersburg is as poignant as he is funny. The performance’s final piece The Whole Shebang captures excellent work from Fizzard, Davidow and Rivera as creations and Creator, respectively.
All these components contribute to an excellent theatrical experience, but the credit for the success of this piece must be attributed to Orloff’s writing. His work is funny without being crass and accessible without being dull.
While laughs abound, don’t be fooled, Mr. Orloff has real themes at work here. Oedi provides politically astute commentary that calls to mind an era of cynically Clinton-esque public opinion triangulation. Perhaps even more profound, The Whole Shebang poses pointed existential questions about why humans even bother to trudge through a cruel, seemingly pointless subsistence, and answers them with heartwarming tenderness and hope.
HA! may have laughter in it’s title, but this is a fantastic production not to be missed –and that ain’t no joke.
Workshop Theater : 312 West 36th Street