The Resistible Red Stops
Through Sept 11.
Red Noses Miller Community Center, northwest field
Through Aug 29.
The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui Capitol Hill Arts Center
Through Aug 22.a
By all means, buy a ticket to DramaQueen's The Stops--but only if you're willing to pay full price for half a show. The first act packs in all the raunchy irreverence you could ask from a revue about three "ladies" (wink) who play the "organ" (wink, wink) in their Nazarene, Southern Baptist, and Unitarian churches, respectively. The bulk of the hour consists of Euglena, Ginny, and Rose explaining how three far-flung organists came together as the vocal group the Stops to sing the holy compositions of one dreamy Dale Meadows. There are terrible puns, and there are sublimely awful hymns, and for the most part the performances walk the thin line between uncertain (the characters) and uncomfortable (the actors). The humor is of the barely oxygenated variety most often found on elementary school playgrounds. How else to explain why I laughed so hard at Euglena's earnest announcement that she wants to entitle the Stops' first devotional record "The Stops: Pull Us Out"?
But all good things must come to an end, and for The Stops, that good end coincides with intermission. You might judge this timing fortuitous--after all, what better moment to slip out of the theater? But the delirium of the first act is highly persuasive, and you will no doubt disregard my counsel and rush headlong into the disaster pit that is the rest of the play. You might think you want to know what's wrong with alcoholic Ginny's little boy Vega, but you do not. You might think you want to hear poor Dale Meadows being defended from his inquisitors, but you do not. And you most certainly do not want to be asked to stand and be counted if you self-identify as homosexual, bisexual, metrosexual, or omnisexual. You did not come for something pseudo-tragic or falsely uplifting. You came because you wanted to urinate in your drawers, and that is perfectly all right. Run, I'm telling you, flee at intermission!
It's the season for theater in the parks, where the drama of staying or going at intermission reaches its most splitting pitch. On the one hand, you didn't pay to get into the park, so there's none of that bothersome cognitive dissonance to block your exit. On the other hand, the performers can track audience movement perfectly in the bright diurnal light, and if you leave, you run the risk of hurting their feelings. Still, I was surprised to note that at a sweltering matinee performance of Red Noses last weekend, most of the audience returned at the end of intermission to deepen their already ripe sunburns. I can't fathom why, as the actors capering on the grassy hillock weren't particularly entertaining (with a few scant exceptions, like the game performance of Lisa San Phillippo as Pope Clement IV). And as for Peter Barnes' bubonic-plague-themed play, let's just say that the sweaty medieval deaths at the outset are funnier than a single joke uttered by the Patch Adams-esque order of clowning priests as they preach their treacly doctrine of "love, laughter, and the life everlasting" to their pustule-dotted flock.
Over at the Capitol Hill Arts Center, director John Abramson has got intermissions all figured out. Arrive a few minutes before curtain for the splendid Brecht epic The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (that's "ooh-ee"--rhymes with phooey) and return to your seat promptly at halftime, or else you'll miss a couple of priceless, atmospheric vocal performances by Danielle Slavick. The music direction in this slightly adapted gangster play is uniformly stellar, and it's a good thing, because the music has to function as set and sound effects in addition to its subtler role as accompaniment.
Resistible Rise is an ambitious undertaking, complete with a 30-person ensemble cast, so there are bound to be a few weaker links. But against the spectacular performance of Darragh Kennan as the tiniest gangster boss Arturo Ui, who wouldn't look puny? Kennan attacks his role with exactly the nuanced caricature (an oxymoron, but let's call it dialectical, hmm?) that Brecht's style demands. And his sure hand with physical comedy--including the calculated personal transformations that follow Arturo's hilarious tutorial with an underemployed Shakespeare actor--helps the inevitable socioeconomic lesson go down smoothly. Kennan is so good that you can almost forgive the hazy performances of his various henchmen, but when other actors have to face him head-on, their timid showings belie the "resistible" claim of the play's title. Anyone could brush off the occasionally inaudible resistance of Mrs. Dullfeet (Jenn Ruzumna) and the feminine bluster of Dogsborough, the materialistic pol. (Betty Campbell wields her pillowy potbelly quite well, considering, but I think this bit of cross-casting was ultimately a mistake.) Although these small complaints affect the logic of the plot, they can't touch the logic of the spectacle, and Resistible Rise makes for some irresistible viewing.