Boston's Lyric Stage Company has a holiday treat that's a pleasant relief from the usual seasonal offerings. Forget the North Pole and Victorian England, and don't settle for the Nativity Scene or the Festival of Lights. Epic Proportions can transport you to the Arizona desert for the making of a 1930s epic film that's a retelling of the entire Bible.
To explore this idea further they imagined two brothers: Benny (Christopher Robin Cook) who thinks the path to Hollywood lies in being the most enthusiastic extra he can be and Phil (Terrence O'Malley) who's been sent to fetch him home. But D. W. DeWitt likes a closed set so the busses won't be back until the movie's in the can. The hapless Phil must bide his time by donning a tunic and a pair of tights as well.
Of course, it's no surprise that when the 3,000 plus extras count off by four, Benny lands in the hard luck group and Phil gets to do all the good stuff. To make life more interesting, not to mention more complicated, the assistant in charge of the "atmosphere personnel" is the girl (Laura Given Napoli) they both fall for.
Napoli proves the old adage that the best presents do come in small packages. She's a charming comic actress who brings out the best in Cook and O'Malley. They are a delightful trio. Ably rounding out the cast are Richard Snee, Maureen Keiller, Neil A. Casey and Nathaniel McIntyre, each appearing in so many roles you would swear there were three times as many of them.
Part of the fun of Epic Proportions is the depiction of the entire gargantuan operation with only seven actors (fewer than the 1999 Broadway production or the original one at Manhattan Punchline Theatre in 1986). To pull this off, director Davis Robinson takes full advantage of the space he has to work with. Helped by set designer Robert M. Russo, he places the action all over the theatre, effectively bringing the audience into the thick of things. I was expecting at any moment to be told to report to makeup and wardrobe for the next scene.
The costumes by Rafael Jaen, especially those for the women, did much to conjure up the feel of a 1930s spectacle. Marc Plevinsky's sound design needs to be kicked up a few notches to do the same.
As the best sketch writing on Saturday Night Live or the old Carol Burnett Show proves, the shorter form for a farce is often the easier to write. Like so many films with a wild and original premise, the setup here is better than the payoff. Although the actors forge onward with great aplomb, the story runs out of steam when it takes a detour from the original premise in the second half.
Epic Proportions, now through December 21st at the Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon St. (Copley Square), Boston, Mass (in the YWCA Building.) Performance schedule: Wednesday & Thursday at 7:30; Friday & Saturday at 8pm with matinees on Saturday at 4pm, Sunday at 3pm and Wednesday Nov 27th and Dec 18th at 2pm. For tickets and information: (617) 437-7172 or online at www.yricstage.com