A Big Hand For 'Behanding In Spokane'

A “black comedy” is defined as “a comedy dealing with unpleasant subjects” and, solo or en masse, those are the subjects definitely dealt with in “A Behanding in Spokane,” the pitch black comedy which opened Friday evening in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Firehouse Theatre.

I am sure there are those who will try to make sense out of the infinitely skewed characters and situations in this work by Irish playwright Martin Mcdonagh.

These would not be those who have seen any — or all — of Mccdonagh’s earlier plays, the best known being ”The Beauty Queen of Lenane,” “The Cripple of Inishmann” and “The Pillowman.” The last is definitely not a comedy. The “Cripple” recently played on Broadway with “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe in the title role.

All this to say that even though Mcdonagh’s plays have not been in the top 10 for community theaters to produce, they should be among the top 10 for audiences whenever they have the opportunity to see one.

A Behanding in Spokane South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreNow back to the “Behanding,”which features an incredibly disgruntled protagonist, Carmichael (played with increasingly frustrated intensity by Mark Moriarty), who has been searching for his missing left hand for 27 years. He waits now in a seedy motel room for its possible return.

Promising to make this happen are a pair of bumbling lovers/petty crooks, Marilyn (Lisa Tuholski) and Toby (Jessie Lott Jr.), who have answered Carmichael’s offer of $500 for the return of his hand, planning to take the money, return a very mismatched hand and run.

Of course, their plan backfires with darkly hilarious complications, none of which are made simpler by the mind-boggling aid/interference of the hotel desk clerk Mervyn (Casey St. Aubin). A poster adult for ADD, Mervyn skips from one topic to another in his meandering chain-of-consciousness monologues, never staying focused for more than a few sentences on each one and twitching incessantly.

A Behanding in Spokane South Bend Civic (IN) Civic TheatreAdd a “digitally-stuffed” suitcase, a do-it-yourself bomb (which on opening night resulted in one of the evening’s most prolonged — and unintentional — laughs), and a mother (Carmichael’s) whose frantic calls only exacerbate the situation and you have an evening of black comedy during which it is difficult to stop laughing even when feeling a bit guilty for doing so.

The proximity of the actors (St. Aubin delivers one speech walking through the audience) only increases the absurdity of their plight as does their ability to play straight every ridiculously convoluted segment.

Fast-paced direction by Tucker Curtis allows little time for logical dissection of the plot and/or the characters. There is only time to sit back and enjoy it. Logic can come later.

NOTE: Strong language, especially the use of the f word and the n word, is extreme throughout.

“A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE” plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday in The Firehouse Theatre, 701 Portage Ave. South Bend. It is performed without intermission. For reservations, call (574) 234=1112.

Precision Missing In SBCT Search For Grail

In October 1989, six of the wackiest minds ever to join forces created a TV show for the BBC titled “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”

To my knowledge, there never was an actual Monty Python, but the off-the-wall humor of its writer/performers (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle Terry Jones and Michael Palin) resulted in a form of comedy that continues to flourish more than 25 years later.

Spamalot  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe TV show ran for 45 episodes which led to five motion pictures and several Python-like comedy groups. From one of the films, 1975’s “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” came the Broadway musical “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”

With book and lyrics by Idle and music by Idle and and John Du Prez, “Spamalot” earned 14 Tony Award nominations and three wins, including Best Musical of 2005. In the years since then, Idle’s hilarious distortion of the Arthurian legend has played in 20 countries and on the stages of countless community theaters throughout this country.

Among these is the production that opened Friday evening in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Theatre. It is not necessary to be familiar with Python to get the humor. “Spamalot” is a farce which, as some may be aware, if my least favorite form of comedy.

Unless it is done well.

Doing it well requires knowing that precision is a necessity in making the seemingly shapeless physical humor more than just a bunch of bodies flailing around as plague victims or Laker Girls or Broadway tappers who (not intentionally) can’t tap or … you get the idea.

Spamalot  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreIt’s attention to details. For example, in order to land the joke, the mourning monks should have been hitting themselves with their tablets (think that’s what they were carrying) in unison and not randomly. It’s making sure that guards absurdly arguing the merits of swallows as coconut-carriers are able to be seen (and heard) by all sections of the audience, ditto the French Taunter whose verbal abuse from high up on a castle wall defeats the cowering English knights.

Once again, the directionless acoustics of the auditorium made it difficult for anyone not sitting in the center section to comprehend most of the dialogue and a large portion of the lyrics.

“The Song That Goes Like This,” sung endlessly by Sir Galahad (Jeremy Weyer) and The Lady of the Lake (Allison Jean Jones), is a blatantly unmistakable homage (?) to Andrew Lloyd Webber, while Jones’ “Diva’s Lament” is more “pitchy” than funny and both are oversung.sbct.org.

Spamalot  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThere are some plusses here, although not nearly enough. Patsy, the keeper of the coconut hoofbeats and Arthur’s dogsbody, is played by William Heckaman who sings well and taps well and is in control of his character. The Black Knight is handily dismembered, the Knights Who Say Ni are reasonably annoying and the Killer Rabbit is deliciously bloody. These, however, are small islands of coherent humor in a flimsy sea.

Choreography is mostly non-existent and uncoordinated. The rear-screen projections are used well, making the graphics one of the major assets of this show.

The ”orchestra” is on a recorded track with which the singers — solo and ensemble — primarily keep track.

King Arthur (Mark Torma) and his knights (William Loring, Nicholas Hidde-Halsey, Weyer and Gary Oesch) have more than a dozen performances remaining in which to find their grail while continuing to look on the bright side of life.

“SPAMALOT” plays Wednesdays through Sundays through April 4 in SBCT’s Wilson Theatre. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or online at SBCT.ORG.

'Nunsense' humor is habit-forming

If you don’t think “Nunsense” can be habit-forming, just ask playwright/composer Dan Goggin or the literally millions of audience members who have enjoyed the results of his efforts for the past 30 years.

The proof is on stage at the Bristol Opera House where the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of Goggin’s initial effort — titled just plain “Nunsense” —opened Friday evening.

I say “just plain” because the six sequels and three spin-offs all have additions to the singular title. Having seen the original (and more sequels than I care to count), I will share my opinion that the first was (and is) the best of the lot.

“Nunsense” began as a line of greeting cards which expanded to a cabaret show and then to an off-Broadway production where it delivered “habit humor” for more than a decade and, in the process, became an “international phenomenon.”

The premise is silly but fun, the score is catchy if not memorable and the enthusiasm of the performers — a requisite for any of the seven incarnations — never wavers.

The setting is the auditorium of Mount St. Helen’s School where the background is the set for the school’s production of “Grease” or as the Mother Superior, Sister Mary Regina (Valerie Ong), mistakenly calls it, “Vasoline.”

Whatever the title, the opening number introducing the sisters is up-tempo and leaves no doubt that this is the direction for the evening (or afternoon).

Nunsense  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INSurvivors of a fatal batch of vichyssoise whipped up by the convent chef, Sister Julia, Child of God (groans start here!), the remaining quintet is determined to raise enough money to bury the deceased nuns left above ground after the mother superior purchased a flat screen TV with part of the burial fund.

Back home in Hoboken (NJ) after a stint in a leper colony, the ladies reveal their hidden talents by putting on a fund-raising revue. Time is running out as a visit from the health inspector is imminent.

Each nun takes her turn in the spotlight but it seems that only a miracle will save them — and bury the “Blue Nuns.”

Sister Mary Regina reminisces about growing up with tightrope-walking parents and provides one of the show’s most hilarious moments examining the contents of a confiscated bottle labeled “Rush.”

Sister Mary Hubert (Christa Norwood), Mistress of Novices, believes “The Biggest Ain’t The Best” and tackles temptation with a vigorous “Time Step.”

With Sister Mary Regina — or rather nipping at her heels — is Sister Robert Anne (Stephanie Zonker Isley), assistant to Mother Nunsense  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INSuperior. Obviously unhappy “Playing Second Fiddle,” she examines the pros and cons of “Growing Up Catholic” and finally declares “I Just Want to Be A Star.”

With the aid of her outspoken helper Sister Mary Annette, Sister Mary Amnesia (Christina Herrick) explains what it takes to be a nun and reveals, finally, “I Could’ve Gone to Nashville.” Sister Mary Leo (Rachael Hall) welcomes convent life on pointe.

Under the direction of Penny Meyers and Annette Kaczanowski, the action rarely falters, with “Father” Mark Swendsen and his ecclesiastically-garbed quintet providing heavenly tempos.

As a final note, attendance past or present at a Catholic school is not necessary to “get” the jokes which have a universal appeal. And if there are some you don’t understand, Sister Mary Regina will be happy to explain it all for you — but that’s a different play.

“NUNSENSE” plays Friday through Sunday and March 20-21 in the Bristol Opera House on SR 120 in Bristol. For information and reservations, call 848-4116