Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Light Side of the Farce

After my encounter with Seneca last week I was in need of some comic relief. Fortunately some was at hand in print and on stage.

**** ****
Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong

David Wong is the pen name of Jason Pargin, editor at Cracked. Several years ago Wong had unexpected success with his self-published cult paranormal/scifi novel John Dies at the End, which was made into a less successful cult movie in 2012. The novel had a sequel in much the same vein: This Book is Full of Spiders – Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It. Wong goes in a new direction with Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits. The newer book employs much more straightforward storytelling and abandons the paranormal, but Wong’s signature sense of humor remains.

In a not-too-distant future, Zoey Ashe lives in a trailer with an aromatic cat and a stripper mother. Zoey learns she is the sole heir to her absentee father, a billionaire entrepreneur in Tabula Ra$a. Tabula Ra$a is a new “anything goes” city in the Utah desert, built because Las Vegas is way too tame. Suddenly she is the target of live-streaming assassins with biological and mechanical enhancements who revel in their viewership count on social media. Her father’s former associates are allies of sorts, though she has no reason to trust them and their agendas. Zoey just wants to survive, which requires preventing an enhanced villain named Molech from making full acquisition and use of her father’s technical legacy. The live-streams of these events are immensely popular, which prompts new actors to enter the fray with their own webcams.

All the quirks and ills of modern society have blossomed into vastly more exaggerated versions in Wong’s future, with marvelous and darkly comedic effect.

Thumbs Up.

**** ****

A Comedy of Tenors

A friend of mine has season tickets to the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ, and was kind enough to give me a call (thanks again, Carol) when one of the four seats on Saturday was vacant. The Paper Mill, with its good facilities and proximity to NYC, is known for high production values and for attracting good talent.

Old-fashioned farce has made a comeback in recent years. This is not just an American phenomenon. A recent Guardian article opines, “This atmosphere of absurdity in public life may be one reason why British theatre is currently so fascinated by farce.” Perhaps that is a reason on this side of the Atlantic, too. Perhaps also it is a way of escaping from the atmosphere of hostility in public life. Mistaken identities and slapstick on stage don’t require us to take sides, and so offer some relief from an all too argumentative world. While farce may not be high art, many of the highest artists have tried a hand at it, such as you-know-who, the author of The Comedy of Errors. It takes some chops for actors to pull it off. Credit is due when they succeed.

Written by Ken Ludwig, A Comedy of Tenors takes place in a 1930s Paris hotel on the evening of a major concert of tenors – initially three, but the number of performers rises and falls (sometimes to zero) in the hours before the concert much to the horror of the producer. There are vast misunderstandings with overheard conversations, professional jealousies, misinterpreted visuals, and (as you might expect from the title) mistaken identity. The identity mix-up is between the world famous tenor Tito and his near twin, an aspiring tenor named Beppo who is a bellhop at the hotel. Doors slam and faces are slapped as the misunderstandings multiply.

The cast includes John Treacy Egan as Tito, Judy Blazer as Tito's wife Maria, Jill Paice as Tito’s daughter Mimi, Ryan Silverman as Carlo (a young tenor and Mimi's lover), Michael Kostroff as the producer Saunders, Donna English as Russian opera star Racon, and David Josefsberg as Max. All of them handle their parts and notes well, and no one trips over the furniture who isn't supposed to.

OK, there’s nothing remotely deep about any of this, and were the seat not free it’s unlikely I would have sat in it. Nonetheless, I'm glad I went. As the knockabout fun the play is intended to be, Thumbs Up.

Trailer – A Comedy of Tenors


  1. Sometimes a play can be a fun diversion, and a good way to get out. I'm not a huge play type person, but ever so often I'll enjoy one.

    I'd not heard of Wong, but his book sounded interesting and a fun take on SF. Sounds like it's influenced by Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide a bit, but perhaps not as dry.

    1. Yes, there is an echo of Douglas Adams' absurdist worldview in David Wong's writings. Of his three novels available on kindle and on paperback, this is the one to get.

  2. Ok Wong's book sounds like a lot of fun. I'm up for some absurdist sci-fi. The film "John Dies at the End" was a flawed bit of fun. I wanted to like it more than I did. It was pretty darn creative that is for sure.

    1. "John Dies at the End" was a tough book to bring to the screen in a coherent way, and as you say, the movie didn't quite hit the mark. The book, though, is pure fun."Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits" is better yet. It would be easier to script but would need a far bigger fx budget.