Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
The Big Funk
Also see Kevin's review of West Side Story
Miami's newest theatre company, The Madman Experiment, opens its inaugural season with John Patrick Shanley's The Big Funk. Last June, this collective was ready to open the doors at the new Main Street Playhouse, but had to postpone due to delays in construction and code enforcement oversights. After a few cast changes, it became a homecoming of sorts. This showcase features graduates and students from Florida International University, but it also shows what people can do with just a stage and a little creativity.
The four characters in The Big Funk have a lot to get off their chests. Jill (Lucia McArthur) is a gothic vixen, declaring herself a villain who needs to be stopped. Fifi (Melissa Almager) is a former circus performer who was a pawn between her parents. She was so tainted by them, she forgot the meaning of love. Her husband, Omar (Robert Maxwell), is a sharpshooter who has a hole in his heart so deep that he is a "sucker for praise." Rounding out the quad squad is Austin (Ivan Lopez), an out of work actor who is beyond optimistic.
At the beginning of act one, they each break the fourth wall by telling stories of a day in their lives. Jill goes on a date with a masked stranger named Gregory (also played by Lopez), who takes a shine to her by smothering her with Vaseline. Omar comes in and breaks up her narration of events by discussing the friendly banter between himself and Austin in a bar. It is in this bar that Austin encounters Jill after her plight with Gregory and offers her a helping hand. Fifi announces to Omar that she is pregnant with twins, and Omar sees this as a sign of replacements gunning for him and his wife.
Act two opens with all four getting together for dinner. There are differences, but they all begin to realize that this whole world is messed up and they will just have to deal with it and with each other.
Shanley calls The Big Funk a casual play, but I found it flawed. There are no real connections between characters, and the climax and dénouement are not satisfying. Even Austin's diatribe at the end holds no particular weight, but just spills out like a rambling on of how life should be fulfilling and we should live each moment as if it were our last. The finale needs a much stronger closing argument than that. Coarse language is abundant in this play, and there is also a scene dealing with a bathtub that is not suitable for viewers under the age of thirteen.
The cast members hold their own with the dialogue that is given; engaging the audience with their stories is a plus. Daniel Suarez's staging is good enough that everyone gets a chance at the spotlight and when it is time for a two or three person dialogue, pacing flows nice and easy.
The four founding members who make up The Madman Experiment (McArthur, Suarez, Gustavo David Ortiz, and Jeanette Taylor) collaborated on the designs: a bare bones stage with little or no furniture, a graphic backdrop featuring a picture collage, sparse lighting, and simple costumes.
The Madman Experiment is an ambitious and committed group. Maybe they shouldn't have used this particular play as an introduction to their mission, but with a little time and dedication, this collective will find its niche soon enough.
The Big Funk plays through March 6th at the new Main Street Playhouse, 6766 Main Street in Miami Lakes. For more information, call (305) 490-5732 or visit their website at www.themadmanexperiment.com.
THE MADMAN EXPERIMENT - The Big Funk
Stage Manager: Jeanette Taylor
Cast: Lucia McArthur, Melissa Almager, Robert Maxwell, and Ivan Lopez
-- Kevin Johnson