Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Mad Max: A Live! Magic Smoking Monkey Parody
So let's assume you've at least a nodding familiarity with the Mad Max movies of the 1980s with Mel Gibson, and perhaps even with the Best Picture Oscar nominee for 2015, the re-booted Mad Max with Charlize Theron.
Anyway, it all belongs to what they used to call an "after the blowup" sub-genre, a science-fiction phrase to denote the post-Apocalyptic nightmare that somehow involves Tina Turner and (in last year's re-make) some pretty major supermodels. They're in different installments (or entirely different conceptions) of the motion picture franchise, where people scramble operatically for water or milk or "guzzoline," in what appears to be the Australian Outback.
But like anything else, you get tired of the slow death of the planet after a while, and just want to see it run athwart of this unholy step-child of St. Louis Shakespeare. It's how we confront our worst fears, by putting the always fine Carl Overly, Jr. in a wig and a dress, with Slinky springs dangling like some coiled coiffure around his head, to call to mind Tina Turner. Because "we don't need another hero."
Above all, it's pop-culture panto, because pop-culture is the religion of the day: the way we all get along. There are fairly steady laughs in the first section, where actor Ben Ritchie is the Mel Gibson "Max," and then Charlie Barron steps in as Tom Hardy from the 2015 version, with Nicole Angeli in the Theron role. She and all the rest are fierce in the lampoon of the recent film.
That's when things really pick up, action-wise (and laugh-wise), perhaps because the more recent movie was such an astonishing, hard-driving, over-the-top spectacle itself. Yes, there is still Silly String, and yes, lots of water goes shooting out into the audience at fairly regular intervals, from squirt guns. And some poor woman out in the seats gets tied up like a tree, for leverage when Furiosa's (Ms. Angeli) crude, cutout version of an 18-wheeler gets stuck in the sand. But it's thanks to the intensity of the performers that this year's show is in the upper 50% of "Monkey" madness.
We are truly blessed to have the vastly underutilized, always great Amy Kelly in the background throughout, as a boomerang-wielding warrior in the first half and as one of the leggy supermodels in the second. (Although she is neither leggy nor particularly supermodel-ish, she is always a solid "10" in terms of comic brains.)
John Wolbers and Roger Erb return in various guises, as funny as ever; and director Suki Peters raises the whole thing to absolute mayhem, and keeps it there for the final 20 minutes or so.
Those last 20 minutes are truly satisfying in their intensity, and the first 30-45 minutes get anywhere from a "C" to a "B" for comic inventiveness and unexpected heart. In the second section, laughter turns to sheer amazement for the ridiculous intensity of it all.
Mad Max: A Live! Magic Smoking Monkey Parody, through June 18, 2016, at the Regional Arts Commission. For more information go to www.stlshakespeare.org.