I've been asked whether I have "different standards" for reviewing nonprofessional theater. This is a legitimate query -- I've seen well-credentialed Equity folks chew scenery with gusto while young or collegiate performers display an ease that the laureled would envy. And I've seen the widest range of abilities in small or nonprofessional theater groups, which are among the few organizations that bring a wide range of people together and provide a safe outlet for those with strong personalities. Ideally there is accountability at every level and a competent and sensitive director gives amateurs a chance to do their best with dignity. And a graceful text can give the most nervous or fledgling actor something to hang onto. But what happens when the script is a mess?
Well, pretty much what happened at Kitchy Kitchy Koo, by local playwright Jim Danek (who also directed with a broad brush, yet turned in an appropriately elegant late-Victorian set design). This premiere at the Theatre Guild at Webster Groves made for a leaden evening of unrelieved, cringe-making tedium. Oh, the poor actors who tried to make sense of this witless array of overwritten banalities! (The fact that the producer handed me a commemorative coffee cup filled with mints after the show -- it would have been churlish to refuse -- only makes the painful duty of reporting this worse).
The plot, such as it was, concerns Jacques and Jacqueline Charade (Will there be puns about parlor games? You betcha), who are en route to the ballet with their friends Andre and Francesca Genet. But Mrs. Genet wants Jacqueline to slip Mr. Genet a mickey so she can have a "rondayvoo" with a Czech, whose name she doesn't know (Will the Czech bounce? I'll spare you). Meanwhile, Jacques is also toting a mickey, for he has designs on Mrs. Charade. Then a letter announces that the Charade home must be sold for back taxes. Who would be so evil as to force them out? Could it be Mrs. Throttlebottom, the local orphanage's director? And there's more. The Charades are dominated by their butler, Joseph, who's avidly pursued by maid Suzette. The next ludicrous and never-explained plot twist concerns an American, Henry O'Neill, accompanied by his butler, Josepp (played by the same actor playing the other butler -- which is also never fully explained), who wants to rent the carriage house out back. Henry takes one look at Charade fille and falls head over heels, yet his butler assures everyone that Henry is a mute. Why?
Because the playwright thought this was funny, I guess. There's plenty of potty humor here, which gets even creepier during another subplot, involving the Harold and Maude-ish situation of young Henry and old Mrs. Throttlebottom. (The embarrassment eases for most of the principals after intermission, for they spend much of the second act passed out onstage -- everyone had too many mickeys, dontcha know?) Actors like Hank Crider (Jacques Charade) do their best with lines such as "It looks like a letter because it is a letter -- I'm not a moronic idiot, you know!" Stephen Peirick (Henry O'Neill), on being introduced, actually utters the old gag "You can call me anything you want -- just don't call me late for dinner." And guess how many times one character tickles another while cackling the title of the play?
I lost count.
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