Regional Reviews: Seattle
Ming the Rude at the Empty Space Theatre
Also see David's review of Party
Older Seattle theatergoers may well have fond memories of a '70s era free theatre tradition called "The Park Shows," as they were primarily staged in Volunteer Park, on Seattle's Capitol Hill. Many now veteran Seattle theatre names such as Lori Larsen, R. Hamilton Wright, and John Engerman made their early marks in such free-wheeling goof-fests as They Came From Way Out There and The Fiend of Gotham. In this tradition, several of these folks have come up with the outer space Flash Gordon-style spoof, Ming The Rude at the Empty Space. Of course, it is not free theatre; tickets are a bit pricier nowadays. Even sadder though, despite the valiant efforts of some of its players, Ming the Rude is only sporadically funny.
The book by Engerman, Wright, Phil Shallat and Bob McDowell is a compendium of topica1 and/or Seattle specific jokes plus a lot of potty humor. It tells the tale of one Larry Ming, the heir apparent to the throne of a planet where good manners are the cornerstone. That is until his father's evil nemesis Sir Pendulous Dewlaps zaps Larry with a rude ray, and threatens to do the same to the rest of the planet, and perhaps the galaxy, in his quest for power! That's about it. Despite some catchy if inconsequential musical numbers composed by Engerman and choreographed with sublime silliness by Jayne Muirhead, Ming the Rude might have been better called Ming The Monotonous.
Director Lori Larsen's erratic pacing stretches what might be an engaging giggle of a 75-minute one-acter into a two hour plus intermission yawner. Larsen really needed to cast someone incendiary as Larry Ming to spur the action, but Troy Fischnaller plays the part as really stupid, really gross or both, and with little or no comic flair. Fischnaller is upstaged at every turn by Kevin C. Loomis' Harvey Korman-like turn as the wicked Sir Pendulous Dewlaps, Nicole Boote's zeal and vocal pizzazz as Betty, and most of all by the endlessly inventive, stylish and brilliantly comic Sarah Rudinoff as Larry Ming's mum, Queen Bess. Rudinoff gets the kind of over-the-top style needed to make this show work, and it bounds to life whenever she takes center stage, with the kind of comic flair that made the likes of Imogene Coca, Madeline Kahn, and Tracy Ullman comic icons of their respective eras.
Much funnier than the show itself are Melanie Burgess' excessively wacky costumes and Jenny Anderson's retro-futuristic set design, which evokes a campy hybrid of Flash Gordon serials and the futuristic exhibits at the 1962 Seattle World's fair. Musical director/pianist Rob Jones and drummer Dan Tierney also exude good-will and musical savvy. Together with the better performances in the show, these folks make Ming the Rude a passing fair time-killer. It could and should have been an out-of this world laugh-fest.
Ming the Rude runs at through November 9, 2003 the Empty Space Theatre, 3509 Fremont Avenue North. For further information visit the Empty Space Theatre on-line at www.emptyspace.org.- David-Edward Hughes