Comic Episodes 

Weekend Comedy doesn’t offer much in the way of laughs, Fairy Tale Confidential comes to the rescue

Weekend Comedy doesn’t offer much in the way of laughs, Fairy Tale Confidential comes to the rescue

Weekend Comedy

Through Feb. 14 at Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre

Fairy Tale Confidential

Presented by Nashville Theater Company

Through Jan. 24 at Bongo After Hours Theatre

In the category of dinner-theater fare, Jeanne and Sam Bobrick’s Weekend Comedy, now playing at Chaffin’s Barn, seems more “lite” than most. The writing never reaches much above the level of mediocre sitcom—which means there is an occasional solid gag mixed in among the hammy dialogue. It seems that the trick to making this tale work would involve pushing the superficial story to the breaking point. Yet in the hands of director Denice Hicks, known so well to Nashvillians as a quality actress and former artistic director of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival, the play falls on its sword way too early, mainly because her straight-ahead approach leaves us too much at the mercy of the play’s hackneyed premise and its usually pretty trite writing.

Clearly, Weekend Comedy is designed to appeal to a middle-of-the-road crowd who want their roast beef, corn pudding and key lime pie with a side dish of silly comic posturing that requires only a modicum of attention. But in that case, the actors might as well go overboard and try to create characters that are as daffy as possible, especially given the improbable situation we’re handed: Through a booking mix-up, a staid middle-aged couple meet a hip younger couple at the same rural vacation spot on the very same weekend, and all agree to share lodgings.

A good actress with respectable local credits, Linda Speir plays the middle-aged wife. She recites her lines capably enough and delivers on the jokes once in a while, but she misses a chance to juice up the proceedings with some character quirks. Her wry restraint looks good on the surface, but it doesn’t best serve this vehicle, which is desperately in need of kookiness. It’s hard to expect that from Ken Dale Thompson, who is saddled with portraying a Cocoa Puffs-loving, fiftysomething boob and has to recite lines like, “I don’t understand you young people anymore....” Thompson at least commits to his role as older, obtuse businessman, and he stumble-bums his way to some kind of vindication at the end—like hundreds of “lovable” television husbands before him.

As the cocky youngsters, Chad Daniel and Elise Lael Kieffer look slender and healthy and play the Generation Gap game OK for a while. But they, too, fall under the yoke of the Bobricks’ mostly prosaic dialogue and can’t seem to act their way out of the bind. When the tables turn in the story—and the younger couple realize they too have their hang-ups—we’re treated to whininess and little in the way of good acting.

Weekend Comedy isn’t much of a play, but it wouldn’t have hurt director Hicks to have forced her charges to create some over-the-top distraction to help us forget how silly the words often are. In the company’s defense, the limp script may have made for too stiff a challenge; even so, Hicks’ presence as director creates expectations for something better than what we get here. But if flyweight theater and a decent meal are what you crave, Chaffin’s current production should prove satisfying enough.

Happily ever after?

Fairy Tale Confidential, a new play by local actress Myra Anderson, opened last week at Bongo After Hours Theatre, and strong turnouts have induced the theater to hold the zany comedy over through this weekend. With gratitude, we note that Anderson has dared to attempt to write something a lot more mentally engaging than Weekend Comedy.

The playwright, who also directed her script, has taken four well-known female fairy tale characters—Snow White, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella—and sits them down on the fantastical psychiatric couch of one Dr. Grimm (played by James Haymer, looking and sounding a good deal like Judd Hirsch in the film Ordinary People).

Again, this is fairly lightweight stuff, but at least Anderson has set a clever, fertile idea before us, and she smartly allows her relatively inexperienced but charming leads to work their characters to giddy extremes. Jennifer Basie is the paranoid Rapunzel; Jerri Owen is the Cinderella who can’t seem to stop performing household chores despite her royal ascension; and Emily Wood, all of 15 going on 16, is a consistently funny Sleeping Beauty who must deal with her narcolepsy. Best of all is Leslie Wallace, seen last November in another good performance at Bongo, Philosophy in the Bedroom. Wallace makes for a winsomely comic Snow White, torn emotionally between the Seven Dwarfs and Prince Charming (played glibly by Joe Giordano). Carla Contreras also works in some bigger-than-life humor as the put-upon doctor’s assistant. Bryan Trautman makes a brief appearance in a bit role as a cop.

As with a lot of plays at the Bongo venue, the cast somehow miraculously find space for each other on the cramped stage. (They even successfully manage a daffy group-therapy scene.) By keeping its tongue firmly in cheek, this Fairy Tale Confidential actually has a happy ending.

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