Mar 9, 2019
Reviewed by Malena Eljumaily
As much as I love to watch a modern interpretation of an old classic, I am always glad to discover a new play and/or playwright. In this case, it’s Cloverdale Performing Arts Center’s production of Only Kidding! by Jim Geoghan. I knew neither the play nor the playwright, so I came to it with no preconceived notions or expectations.
The program prompts that Only Kidding! is “a wry look at being funny and making it big.” Or not. There is often a great deal of tragedy where comedy is concerned. How many stand-up comics have we lost through the years to accidental drug overdoses and suicides?
Director Jeremy Boucher brings the audience into the gritty, fast-paced world of professional comedy. We laugh and cry and all the time care about the characters.
The action begins in a dingy basement below a Brooklyn night club. Tom (Dan Tatch) and Jerry (Nicholas James Augusta) are stuck working in these second-rate venues. This comedy duo seems to argue more than agree, especially when their oily and possibly “mobbed up” manager Sal (Robert A. Rodriguez) offers them a chance to appear on The Buddy King Show. Who in his right mind would turn down such an offer? King’s show is a late-night staple from which multitudes of fresh young comedians have launched their careers. But the contract comes with a catch or two.
The Act 2 setting is decidedly more appealing than the basement. It’s a sunny bungalow in the Catskills, inhabited by Jackie Dwayne, an old school (a nice way of saying has-been) comedian who has never seemed to catch a break. His one overriding career goal is to appear on The Buddy King Show. He is soon joined by mild-mannered Sheldon (Yavé Guzman)who has come to help him with his jokes. Danny Ray Bullington, Jr.is brilliant as the raging and increasingly desperate Dwayne. His comedic rants are only made funnier by Sheldon’s ho-hum reactions. Guzman, as Sheldon, takes the concept of straight man to a whole new level.
Three years later, all these characters end up in the Green Room of, wait for it, The Buddy King Show. I won’t give away the where’s or what-for’s, but the circumstances have changed for all of them and yet, they are essentially the same people they started out as in the first two acts. Except for the one who had a life-changing heart attack and unexpectedly benefited from the experience. The tension increases as showtime nears and the end should be satisfying for everyone.
This show is mostly about the characters and the jokes, but I can also mention the great sets designed by Yavé Guzman. All three are individual and convey the location with a minimum of fuss. Alice Gulley ’s costumes are equally individual to the characters and reflect each character’s status perfectly. I don’t know where she found the tuxedo Jackie Dwayne wears, but it’s almost worth the price of admission to see him prance around backstage in it.
As funny as Only Kidding! is, it takes a hard look at comedy, fame and ambition. I would warn that this is not one to take the little ones to; strong language and adult themes pervade. But so does laughter and an abiding sense of hope.
Photos by John Gobeille
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