Dallas — When a theatrical production starts with cuts from “Weird Al” Yankovic's most classic album and ends with Ethel Merman belting out “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” you know you’re in for satire rife with pop-culture vanity and bombast.
The Coarse Actor Rises! fulfills, providing a breezy 90-minute comedy with plentiful chuckles, a light soufflé of a play that is a perfect escape from politics. The humor is softly rounded, while the wit is sharp, offensive to no one except actors and directors whose sole skill is self-infatuation. The Pegasus Theatre production runs through Aug. 27 at the Bath House Cultural Center.
Penned by Kurt Kleinmann, Rises is the fifth in a Coarse Acting series and takes its inspiration from the mid-60s satirical book, The Art of Coarse Acting by Michael Green. Presented as a primer on how to be a bad actor and director, Kleinmann takes the premise literally. Directed by Art Kedzierski, Rises avoids being grating by a cast that loves and embraces the obliviousness of their characters.
The premise is clever. The inept yet pretentious Brockman Acting Academy of the Dramatic Arts in Westerhay, Texas, is showcasing their enterprise to an auditorium of media and theater types. It’s led by none other than Bart Brockman himself (Steve Miller), who’s all faux refinement—you can tell by the ascot that is never quite tied right. Afterward, the academy presents its annual student recital of a play written/plagiarized by Brockman.
The characters, necessarily superficial for a spoof like this, are brightly drawn, if a tad unrealized. New Age flake (Camille Long as Oolong), who finds her inner savage via a fencing foil, gains the broadest of laughs. Octavia Y. Thomas is feisty as the boxer-turned-actress Annie Masters; LaKeisha Leonard as Vickie Vale is obliviously perky; and Johanna Nchekwube as Alice Drew is on a perpetual path of self development. Jared Culpepper plays Emilio Schwartzman, the pathetic IT nerd who’s there to pick up girls. Chad Spear portrays a bland but ever earnest Carl Swenson.
In the first half, Brockman expounds on the academy’s principles such as:
- Always stand out (i.e. grandstand).
- Strive to upstage other actors and claim center stage.
- Aim for the highest amount of adoration for the least effort.
- Don’t conform to the character as written—scripts are a “suggestion” after all, says Brockman—rather mold the character to your personality.
Brockman step-by-step deconstructs Swenson and his Shakespearean monologue. A moderately good actor emoting from within transforms into a slavering maniac emitting guttural sounds. Somehow multiple bits on Pokémon GO interrupting these short-attention-span actors factors in. (Just how freshly baked is this script?)
But it’s the second half where Rises gets rolling, a modernized Romeo and Juliet done Cliff Notes style—literally. Or at least Brockman’s interpretation of it, deviating just enough to avoid licensing entities’ wrath, with name malapropisms like Mercurochrome instead of Mercutio, and the Capicola family who battles the Mortadellas. You know that because of the team t-shirts (wish all Shakespeare plays had those). Shakespearean language is represented mainly by adding –eth to the end of words, like when Romeo discovers he’s been dumpeth by Rosaline. It concludes with the massive death scene bad actors yearn for, complicated by the academy’s inability to afford more than one dagger.
Rises would rise better with a quicker pace, and more modern twists in the play like a village elder decreeing that “Fighting is bad for business. Go home.” The Chicken Dance as a marriage ritual comes and goes too quickly. Spoof characters are meant to be superficial, but just a bit more emotional connection would bring bigger laughs from the lovely piffle schtick. But overall it makes for a perfectly innocuous outing.