Penguins, Episode 2: More Filthy, Violent Satire of Catholic Gangs
In our post-Nunsense-and-Sister-Act age, spoofing Catholicism is a cute, safe, crowd-pleasing standard, which is why Scot Augustson's late-night serial comedy Penguins is such a breath of fresh, filthy air. Tracking the war for power between nuns and priests in an endlessly corrupt diocese, Penguins premiered last fall at Annex Theatre, where the first episode—Heaven the Hard Way—shocked and delighted audiences with its balls-out devotion to depravity (extortion, murder for hire, 69 flavors of sexual molestation), executed by a talented, canny cast.
Now comes Penguins, Episode 2: Roll Away the Rock, which I'm happy and somewhat flabbergasted to report is even filthier than episode one. (Unsatisfied with pedophilia, Penguins' clergy has moved on to stress-busting infanticide—and that's just the first act.) Directed once again by Bret Fetzer, Penguins, Episode 2 lays out the basics of the preceding installment in a quick-hit intro (playwright Augustson is a master of serial-drama conventions) before getting down to dirty new business, which unfolds over an hour of short, more-or-less sharp scenes.
The strengths of the first installment remain the strengths of the second: As the warring figureheads Father Jones and Sister Bernadette, Chris Dietz and Lisa Viertel bring the central conceit of Penguins (clergy clash rendered as gangster noir) to vibrant, vicious life, and Fetzer's direction continues to make the most of Annex's scrappy space and shoestring budget. (The level of violence Penguins achieves via silhouette is remarkable.)
But mixed in among these carefully conceived and executed bits are a handful of goofier, messier characterizations that feel more in line with an improv skit than a sharp theatrical satire. Maybe these looser, gassier bits will tighten up as the second episode's run progresses. For now, Penguins delivers another dose of actually shocking comedy that is way more fun than not.