Wrong Direction

Bovine Metropolis is a fine, cozy venue, the people who run it are lively and friendly, and I've seen good comedy there. But The Mammas & the Papparazzis is simply not ready for prime time, either in terms of material or performance quality. Each and every one of the six actors has talent and some appealing qualities, but all of them need direction. Someone has to tell these people that funny isn't just talking faster and faster and louder and louder until your voice rises to a shriek. Someone should communicate to them the value of silence on a stage and discuss issues of subtlety and contrast. As for the material, there are some funny bits, but these are stuck between scenes so stultifyingly lame that they suck all the life from the evening.

The proceedings begin with a song about the presidential race: Apparently the most pointed barb the writers could find is that both candidates are rich white guys. There's a job interview where the joke is that the interviewee's a psycho. A bitchy erstwhile prom-queen type puts together a high school reunion at which a former nerd who's become a famous singer agrees to perform and sings a song putting the prom queen down. There's a love song to Tony Soprano; a ditty about Mayor John Hickenlooper's One Book, One Denver program; a real stinker of a skit about an experimental theater group in which the director, wearing a black beret, says things like: "We blame our audience. If they like it, it's pabulum" and "I love it because I hate it." This is less a send-up of real experimental theater than a weak copy of dated and out-of-touch television send-ups. And speaking of dated, there are several dated references in this show -- Chernobyl, the Menendez brothers, Ted Bundy -- and these seem particularly odd, given the youth of the cast.

Among the funnier bits: two politicians ranting about their opponents and becoming more and more feverish until the opponents are transformed into baby-eating monsters; a bittersweet scene in which an elderly woman offers kindness and nurturance to an inept traveling salesman; a sexy photography session during which the woman squirms in her seat, intoning, "I'm a dirty kitty" that's interrupted when the camera battery dies. The photographer's subsequent attempts to buy a battery at Radio Shack are stalled by a clerk who asks innumerable personal questions and insists on seeing six IDs.

One of my favorite segments was a performance by two middle-aged folk-singing hippies at a Holiday Inn, whose peace-and-love ballads are interrupted by fierce bickering. I think one of the reasons this piece worked is that the actors, Tony Ventola and Kerstin Caldwell, accepted audience suggestions for songs, and this meant they had to be present and real, paying attention to both the audience and each other.

A party scene in which one participant after another leaves the general merriment and confesses to loneliness and existential despair is better in conception than execution. A Law and Order parody soars, as a couple of dimwitted cops draw the wrong conclusions about every clue left on the scene while the victim's ghost argues helplessly with them, but the parody sputters into incoherence when the murder reaches the courtroom.

Kerstin Caldwell is periodically very good; I think she could be consistently funny if she relaxed more and shouted less. Tara Geraghty, too, could be hilarious; she's tall, elastic-limbed and a good mimic. And some of Lisa Laureta's characters have a spongy sullenness that could be honed into something genuinely original.

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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman

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