Plano — Men in togas are already pretty funny if you’re in the right mood, and the sharp and playful young company at Fun House Theatre and Film gets the laughs going right away in Woody Allen’s God, A Comedy in One Act. It all happens in the intimate Black Box Theatre at Plano Children’s Theatre performance complex on Custer Road.
What better pairing than an sorta-absurdist comedy about the meaning of life and writer’s block written by Allen in his 20s and a troupe of super-charged, confident actors, ages 9-18, directed with fearless wildcat-herding skill by award-winning playwright Matt Lyle?
It’s a marriage made in fifth century B.C. Athens, where brainy playwright Hepatitis (a handsome, hapless Tex Petrello) and unemployed actor Diabetes (a wired, apprehensive Brian Wright) are trying to come up with an ending for the play they plan to enter in a contest. Right away, they figure out they’re both mere characters caught in a play-within-a-play. Then they start doubting their own free will, never mind God’s existence. Stuff like that. Sound portentous and profound? Not a bit of it.
Allen uses the existential platform for a flurry of questions, puns and slapstick takes on the meaning of life to remind us that all the world’s a stage and maybe playing it for laughs is not such a bad idea. Lyle and the two-dozen actors in the show have the tone just right. No small feat right there—and amazingly the stage doesn’t get crowded, even when the bossy chorus moves in front of Melissa Patrello’s painted Greek columns.
When the script wanders into the audience to find a nice Jewish girl (Laney Neumann) willing to join the company, the show moves right along, like that’s life. Of course, she turns down all the goober guys that hit on her “because it’s in the script.” When somebody calls for a “doctor in the house,” up pops a competent looking kid with a man voice (Miles Alexander) equipped with a stethoscope and a perfect straight-man delivery.
A Cassandra-like character named Bursitis (a tragic looking Tess Cutillo) turns out to be a coed from Collin County College, warning the guys that bearers of bad news “get their head cut off,” and “if it’s really bad news, they get roasted to death over a slow fire.” On the bright side, we find out where to get the best Chinese take-out.
Everybody gets in on the act in this fast-moving, 45-minute forum on how to fritter away an evening and have fun doing it. Blanche Dubois (sultry, funny Nadia Kennedy) strolls through the quest for meaning, and Woody Allen himself (a dour, quizzical Jake Allen) makes an appearance. A stern guard (tough-guy Joseph Nativi) shouting at poor Diabetes ends up taking an order “for roast beef on rye,” and one gossip says of King Oedipus, “I hear he lives with his mother.” Poor guy.
The show speeds by, aided by big authentic sounding thunder and Bren Rapp’s clever costumes (in the interest of disclosure, Rapp is the Director of Sales and Marketing for TheaterJones). The end of the play does arrive (as it must in all shows, on and off the stage)—and we all hear the surprising answer to the Big Question. The energy and enthusiasm the cast exudes is contagious, and the audience is partly applauding themselves, since we’ve been in on the joke from the get-go.
After a break for sodas and cupcakes served just outside the small theater space, eight members of the company’s Unicorn Clearance improvisation group, coached by Jeff Swearingen, did a fast and funny 20-minutes of improv, riffing on NASCAR devotees returned from the dead, a fitness center for people over 75 and some other zany bits.
These kids are cool and convincing, moving in and out of characters, regardless of gender and age, and mostly landing the laughs they aim for. A fourth-grader is a hoot as a 100-year-old woman and handsome Doak Campbell Rapp is sleazy fun as an announcer in one brief sequence. In fact, all these swift and witty upcomers listed here are fun to watch: Marisa Mendoza, Madeleine Norton, Jake Allen, Kennedy Waterman, Christos Kaiafas, Jaxon Beeson and Zoe Smithey. Nice work, guys.