Theater companies that produce plays about the evils of censorship are sometimes guilty of committing the very sins they seek to decry -- a dilemma that's brought home in a pair of one-acts billed as The Decency Acts.
The joint effort of Promethean Theatre and the Bug Theatre Company is being presented at the Bug Performance and Media Art Center. First up is Promethean's take on Noonday Demons, a cleverly conceived piece by British playwright Peter Barnes, who established himself as something of a rabble-rouser with his scathing satire about England's upper classes, The Ruling Class, which premiered in 1968. Noonday Demons, set in 395 A.D., introduces us to a loincloth-clad monk, Eusebius (Step Pearce), who has spent the last thirteen years holed up in an Egyptian cave in order to test and deepen his faith. Before long, another monk, Pior (Joel Harmon) joins Eusebius, and the two men battle it out to determine whose beliefs are more Godlike.
The first forty or so minutes serve as an opportunity for the talented Pearce to run a solo gamut of Monty Python-like hilarity, which he does with admirable energy and flexibility. Pearce is at his best when he becomes possessed by the devil, who forces Eusebius to hold an amusingly schizoid conversation with himself. But while most of the bits and one-liners are cute, the production is labored and the message painfully obvious. Especially because the actors continually comment on the characters instead of playing each situation as truthfully as possible. For example, Pior remarks that being in the dank cave makes him miss his former home in the salt-lake beds; Harmon puts on a fake crying display that's evidently meant to make us see that these wistful feelings are genuine, and therefore funny. Unfortunately, they're neither. If the moment were played more honestly and then stretched to the limits of farce, the absurdity of suffering for heaven's sake would likely emerge in the humorous way that Barnes intends. Instead, for what proves an interminable 75 minutes, director Melanie Moseley and the actors flail away at truths that, as written, should stand up well enough on their own.
The evening, which drags on for almost three hours, doesn't get much better after intermission. One of the more ironic things about the Bug Theatre Company's version of 7 Blowjobs, penned by American scribe Mac Wellman, is the company's choice to print the title on its programs and posters in abbreviated form or by substituting '70s-style flower petals for the o's in "Blowjobs." Maybe that's just the Bug's way of saying that even a fringe theater group has to bow to standards of what's fit to print; even so, it looks like a copout. After all, if certain local publications, including this one, are willing to print the title in full, then theater companies who want the attendant publicity should do so, as well.
Choices of punctuation aside, the 75-minute show, which Donna Morrison directs, winds up suffering from the same problems as Promethean's ill-fated venture. Rather than remain truthful to the story's basic premise -- several photographs that depict the sex acts of the play's title have been anonymously sent to a United States senator, causing his staff to wonder whether they're being smeared, spied upon or both -- the actors hem and haw. The photos should spark the senator's staffers to adopt damage-control attitudes that would resemble those of zealots embarking on a holy war, where manufactured smiles mask the fact that everyone is under suspicion, every look at the photos is achieved under the guise of officialdom and the impending, unspoken threat to senatorial authority is chillingly, comically real. But that never happens. The actors stare at the photos with furrowed brows, insert lengthy pauses between lines, inflate every punch line to the point that none of them are very funny and fuss around in petty, inconsequential ways. As a result, their extraneous commentary becomes more paramount than the playwright's. Which, like the evening's first offering, sends the message, however unintentionally, that neither group trusts the playwright to speak for himself.
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