Ennio Marchetto is a funny Italian who dresses up in paper costumes to look and act like well-known celebrities, politicians, and characters from high art, movies, and cartoons. His show opens with a man in pajamas blowing out a cleverly designed paper candle, and the idea seems to be that we're about to enter a dream world, a sort of Metamorphoses of popular culture. Music throbs through the theater and Ennio comes out dressed as the pope, who folds up his white paper robe to become Fidel Castro in green paper fatigues. Later Queen Elizabeth, dancing to Queen's "I Want to Break Free," morphs into Freddie Mercury. Snow White bites into an Apple-computer logo and becomes Marge Simpson. Some of the characterizations are hilarious, and the costumes are brilliant technical innovations by the Dutch designer Sosthen Hennekam. Ennio is also a talented mime, expressive and graceful. But the show would be more interesting if he had something to say. Instead, he comes off as a waggishly minded fan, feeding us back familiar pop symbols in irreverent 2-D. His version of Ricky Martin is nothing but a big paper globe with a little hip-swinging Ricky on top, but the audience goes wild, apparently because they recognize Ricky Martin and because Ricky Martin is famous. I wanted to see Ennio push the crepe paper a little more -- even his cleverest ideas hint at vast fields of satire lying harmlessly unplowed.
By Michael Scott Moore
-14: An American Ma(u)l
Writer/director Robert O'Hara's lampoon of American race relations was developed with the ACT MFA program and gets its world premiere in this energetic production. O'Hara imagines a future in which the 14th Amendment is suspended (the title should be read as "Negative 14"), and slavery reinstated. Relaying the effect on two families -- the Franklins, white, and the Jeffersons, black -- he plays freely with time, politics, history, and narrative, ignoring the 13th Amendment, which specifically outlaws forced servitude, trashing Lincoln, and blasting the media. (A Clintonian-style examination of Thomas Jefferson's sex life is pretty amusing.) The actors clearly revel in the freedom of O'Hara's burlesques -- no topic, no word is off-limits in this play, and the white performers especially exhibit a lunatic intensity when spewing racial epithets that's both frightening and funny. Cracker patriarch Tex Franklin's (Travis Guba) newly awakened racism is so powerful it cures his paraplegia, while his wife Marilyn (Stephanie Fybel) makes a shocking, comic phone call that's an orgy of hate. Alex Moggridge, though stumbling a bit as the infantile president announcing the suspension, makes your jaw drop as a state trooper who keeps changing into a bloodhound and back again. And Lloyd C. Porter is enjoyable as the Uncle Tom-ish Delaware Jefferson, foppishly pursuing an exemption. But there's also an infuriating lack of discipline and examination in the script. Race relation clichés and trite dogma exist alongside outrageous satire. O'Hara wants us to know how the legacy of slavery feels -- a swirling mixture of history, myth, humor, and anger. He wants to obliterate slavery with ridicule and rage, but laments the impossibility of such a thing, and doesn't care if he harms the storytelling in the attempt. -14 is a mess, but thankfully, it's an unholy one.
By Michael Scott Moore