Holey Moses 

Boiler Room's hilarious staging of a questionable script just might be miraculous

Boiler Room's hilarious staging of a questionable script just might be miraculous

Epic Proportions

Presented by Boiler Room Theatre

Through July 8 at The Factory at Franklin

It's pretty clear why Epic Proportions had an abbreviated run when it debuted on Broadway in 1999. This zany take on the filming of a 1930s Hollywood biblical blockbuster (complete with toga-clad cast) has loads of laughs, but the script flags not very soon into Act 2, leaving actors with the task of continuing to make funny while scrambling desperately to prop up an inexorably fading plot line.

On the other hand, while it's easy to see why the play was drubbed by New York critics, there's plenty of cleverness, even flat-out hilarity. Authors Larry Coen and David Crane (of Friends fame) pursue their Mad magazine-style vision as far as they can take it and, until the wheels fall off the chariot, their efforts provide a pretty wild ride. Furthermore, while the comedy's limited scope might be ill-suited to a big Broadway house, a more intimate venue can make for a more forgiving theatrical experience. That's exactly what's happening in the new production at Boiler Room Theatre.

Director Laura Skaug takes eight of the better Boiler Room regulars and whips them into a comic frenzy, and much of the evening, in particular the tightly wrought first act, is side-splittingly good. Ironically, the cast earns its highest commendation in the weaker Act 2, because there they are mostly working without a net; the Coen-Crane setup weakens, and the players have to do double-time to push the scenario forward to its creaky conclusion while still eliciting laughs.

The story centers around brothers Benny and Phil Bennet (Douglas Goodman and Jack E. Chambers), a couple of locals who have signed on as extras for the making of director D.W. DeWitt's movie extravaganza, which appears to combine elements of every wide-angle ancient history film ever made (The Ten Commandments, Spartacus, Ben-Hur, etc.). Cast and crew are isolated in the Arizona desert, and the endless days of filming begin to fray nerves. As DeWitt becomes more reclusive, extras coordinator Louise Goldman (Megan Murphy) finds herself taking on more responsibilities, while also becoming entangled in a love triangle with the Bennet boys. As events ratchet up the absurdity, Phil takes over as the film's director, and the multitudes begin kvetching to a mutinous level.

It's all silliness, yet it's wondrous how this mighty cast continues to find the breathless energy to keep working the slapstick and over-the-top characterizations while enacting some 25 rotating roles. Sloan Yarborough, Scott Rice, Lisa Gillespie and Thomas DeMarcus are the bedrock, constantly exiting and entering stage left and right as soldiers, slave masters, Egyptian dancing girls, guards, gladiators and the like. With the assistance of some well-placed sound effects and the clever Cat Eberwine costumes, they provide plenty of amusement, almost convincing us they're a throng. Murphy does her usual (and successful) turn as a sincere cutesy-pie caught amid forces beyond her control; Chambers is fine as the power-grabbing Phil; and Alan Lee does a brief funny cameo as DeWitt. But most of the evening's charm and humor derive from the performance of Goodman, whose eager, star-struck character is put-upon, physically manhandled and bereft at every turn, yet somehow emerges triumphant.

Epic Proportions is a lighthearted romp, and the BRT ensemble gets maximum mileage out of a vehicle that threatens to run out of gas before it reaches its destination.

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