This Is Not Funny
But it is funny-and charming: youth glimpsing ahead to the dangers of adulthood, and discovering the way the world blocks the search for transcendence on a pretty regular basis. Even something as naturally transcendent as poetry gets bogged down in bitterness and resentment here (and that's the funniest part of all).
This is the fourth production of This Is Not Funny (all were in the metropolitan area, counting the two at Southern Illinois University over in Edwardsville), and the current and former ensemble members get the credit for what has developed into a 75-minute piece. Though it dawdles a bit in some of the later child/clown scenes, This Is Not Funny jumps up and races to a genuinely exciting comedic finish in the last two or three vignettes. The night I attended, the whole audience applauded enthusiastically afterward, though the actors never returned to take the usual bows. If someone hadn't announced the show was over, I have a suspicion the crowd would have just waited another minute or two, for the chance to applaud them.
Special credit goes to director Anna Skidis, who wrote a lot of the very clever and original poetry, since it all began with an experimental theater workshop in 2011. And credit, too, goes to the excellent comic actress Elizabeth van Pelt as the rueful poet between scenes. The verse she descants takes us on a world-wide tour of lyric forms and styles, and the comedienne sparkles as a jaded, embittered (and occasionally smug) young writer.
Sarah Porter is the TV newscaster with a Latin flair, warning of the dangers of children's balloons, and unexpected sex toys marketed to kids, and of the mass escape of zoo animals. And somewhere along the line she's joined by a handsome rival: Reginald Pierre, as her unwelcomed co-anchor. It only serves to make her funnier though, as Mr. Pierre gradually takes over with charm and style. The two newscasters clash repeatedly, with good success. And their tangle over online dating is a genuine highlight.
All those TV news scenes seem to be viewed through the eyes of the show's two children, played by 20-something actresses Sarah McKenney and Sara Sapp. They are charming, though eventually their youthful speculations become a little drab, due to the writing (which can be homeopathically thin). A circus clown (Steven Castelli) adds a bit of color, though he seems to lack any particular characterization of his own. In the final ten or fifteen minutes the action really heats up and all three pull out of their late little slump most delightfully, redeeming them all.
It's a light comedy (with lots of great comic poetry scenes) full of the challenges facing young women and girls. So let's be honest: who am I, as a man, to say what's engaging (or not) in that regard? There are plenty of funny moments, and I probably shouldn't make such a big deal out of the eighth and ninth scenes, out of a pretty solid dozen.
And what about that hot, hot theater in The Chapel? you ask. Strangely, it wasn't hot at all the first Friday night, which is a big surprise for veterans of shows there in the summer. In recent years we've sweltered and dared not move, lest we enrage the micro-climate, simply by bumping into the scorching air. This time I was shocked to find The Chapel has air-conditioning, at least for this production. So, if that was your excuse for not attending this original work, forget it. And as it says on the bumper stickers all around town, "Go See a Play."
Through August 2, 2015, at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander, St. Louis 63105 (behind the beautiful white stone church on Skinker Blvd.) just south of Washington University. For more information visit www.theatrenuevo.com.
The Cast (in order of appearance)