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Viagara Falls

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Viagara Falls
Lou Cutell, Bernie Kopell, and Teresa Ganzel.
Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Theatre is generally thought of as an artistic or entertainment form, but don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be medicinal as well. Take, for example, the new play at the Little Shubert Theatre: Viagara Falls. A kind-hearted sex comedy about two randy mid-70s guys and the middle-aged prostitute they engage for an evening, it’s an arresting substitute for... you know... those little blue pills. Oops, sorry, not those little blue pills. But rather Lunesta.

Yes, this play — which was originally written by Brazilian playwright Joao Machado and tweaked by American comedian Lou Cutell — is at least as effective as prescription sleeping pills, if perhaps slightly harder to swallow. The story insists that you believe that Charley (Cutell), who’s turning 77, would choose to celebrate his birthday with his Korean war buddy and upstairs neighbor, Moe (Bernie Kopell), and an aging “escort” named Jacqueline Tempest (Teresa Ganzel) from pussycatsforoldermen.com (whom they call on the phone, but never mind). Those other, more famous blue pills do a role, first when the men take them, and then when Jacqueline takes them — mistaking them for, uh, aspirin. Then VA mails potentially devastating medical results (mails?) to the wrong guy, when they actually should have gone...

I suppose that’s technically entering spoiler territory, but can a story truly be spoiled when it’s essentially about old men making googly-eyed faces at a younger woman’s most prominent body parts? Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last 3,000 years, chances are you won’t find much of the shtick that passes for writing here especially innovative. And unless you’ve never seen another sex comedy — ever, in any medium — the odds are outstanding you won’t find this one very funny. The average rerun of Three’s Company retains more latent surprise than this and also holds up better — jokes about VCRs, Nancy Reagan, and communism make it seem like this one has been sitting on a shelf for a long time. (In fairness, there are also knee-slappers about Homeland Security and Muslim suicide bombers.)

Directed by Don Crichton as if a contretemps in line at a Duane Reade pharmacy, the production is sharply meandering, with pacing that’s filled with more holes than a 5.25-inch floppy disk. (I’m just trying to match the freshness of the play’s writing.) One must admire the actors’ ability to put up with it: Cutell attacks his role with an enormous amount of energy, as if he were playing the Fool in a Catskills King Lear (though, here, it’s more like King Leer); Kopell brings the same kind of avuncular authority he did to his most famous role, of Doc on The Love Boat; and Ganzel’s quirky, fading-kewpie-doll sexiness makes the most out of a role that the Ancient Romans probably thought Plautus had already done to death.

The actors’ performances, however, can’t overcome the writing or the direction to ever register as funny or (as the play’s events eventually encourage) sympathetic. Who, at this point, could make jokes about a busty woman not needing a barrel to traverse Niagara Falls (where Jacqueline was born, hence the play’s title) amusing, or a scene in which a 40-something hooker teaches two 70-something widowers exotic dancing into a legitimate comic centerpiece? That this one even attempts both makes the 90-minute evening feel like a five-minute Carol Burnett Show sketch gone spoiled-buttermilk sour.

The Carol Burnett comparison is also apt, given that Crichton was a featured dancer on that storied series, and this show’s costumes (and logo) were designed by — wait for it — Bob Mackie! You get only hints of his trademark zesty glitz in two heavily sequined jackets the guys don to prepare for their evening, though Mackie certainly also knows the clingiest and laciest ways to show off Ganzel’s assets. When Mackie’s work represents the sole visible dose of good taste and respectability, you know you’re witnessing a show like no other. But even Mackie’s game attempts can’t keep Viagara Falls from leaving you stiff — for all the wrong reasons.


Viagara Falls
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission
Little Shubert Theatre, 422 West 42nd Street between 9th Avenue and Dwyer Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Telecharge