May 16, 2017
by Harry Duke, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and American Theatre Critics Association
Big shot Broadway producer Jerry Cobb has a problem. He’s in desperate need of a big comedy hit to impress the Hollywood bigwigs and pave his way to fame and fortune on the left coast. He’s rented a suite in one of Arizona’s finest hotels where he and Charlie Bascher, his assistant, await the arrival of Broadway wunderkind playwright Danny “Nebraska” Jones. Things aren’t going well as there are slight temperature control issues with their rooms and things don’t get much better when Jones arrives. Seems that he is in a bit of a funk. He’s experienced a painful loss and his best idea for a comedy begins with a child being devoured by wolves. What lengths will producer Cobb, assistant Bascher and a surprise visitor go to in getting the script they want?
That’s the premise behind Robert Caisley’s A Masterpiece of Comic … Timing, making its Bay Area premiere at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse. Caisley has a history at the Playhouse, where at least five other of his works have been produced. For his latest, director Craig Miller has gathered a cast of experienced farceurs – Chris Schloemp, Benjamin Stowe,Devin McConnell, and Rose Roberts - and has them running (and jumping, and crawling) around the Studio Theatre’s nicely appointed Royal Palms Hotel set.
They all play standard character types. Schloemp is fun as the dogged producer, willing to say whatever needs to be said to get what he wants. Stowe does what he can with a stock role as the nebbish assistant who’s incapable of “toughening up” to the level of his producer boss - but gee whiz he’ll try! McConnell seems to be channeling John Turturro’s Barton Fink character from the same-named Coen Brothers film. Character similarities aside, he is involved in some of the show’s best sight gags. Rose Roberts is a comedic dynamo in her politically incorrect role as a blonde bombshell who gained her success the old-fashioned way.
The show seemed a bit long, with Act I leaning heavy on exposition and set-up and Act II, while moving quicker (with a major assist from Roberts), let a few things run on too long before the ultimate payoff. Characters in farce are often one-dimensional, as they certainly are here, but I would have liked to see more variety in the delivery and level of those characters. If a character’s energy level runs from A to Z, it can be exhausting for an audience if they all start at X.
In an early scene, producer Cobb explains that “Comedy doesn’t necessarily have to ‘mean’ anything. You take a hundred jokes and put it in two acts, there’s your plot.” - which is pretty much what Caisley has done here. Some of them work, some of them don’t. Some are original, some seem awfully derivative. They’re all delivered with bombast and the cast does wring a fair amount of laughs out of the material, which is nothing less than what I’d expect from a cast of this caliber.
A Masterpiece of Comic… Timing isn’t that by a longshot, but it does make for an amusing night of theatre. Comedy may not have to have a meaning, but it sure as hell better have laughs, and Miller and company mine the script for every laugh they can. It may not be a Comstock lode of laughs, but there’s more than enough silliness to cover the price of a ticket.
Presented by 6th Street Playhouse
through May 28
Thurs @ 7:30pm, Fri/ Sat @ 8pm, Sun @ 2pm , Sat May 27 @ 2pm
6th Street Playhouse
52 W 6th St
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Photos by Eric Chazankin
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