The people at Rude Guerrilla have never chosen a play based on getting asses in seats. No Neil Simon, no Shakespeare, no musicals, no tired adaptations of films, just work that strictly adheres to the left-of-center, political and sexualized aesthetic which the company has always championed.
So their staging of King Ubu, Alfred Jarry's landmark satire on a corrupt ruler who chooses to invade another country for economic gain, makes perfect sense. Adaptors Dave Barton, Stephen Ludwig and Andrew Nienaber have turned Jarry's 1896 farce into a direct and timely attack on a certain sitting American president. From jokes about the Sept. 11 report to a hilarious prologue in which Jarry—wearing a cowboy hat and speaking with a Texas drawl—welcomes the audience to his play, Bush and Iraq are all over this play like flies on feces.
Unfortunately, the play—and this production—is a mess. While there are moments of inspired lunacy, for the most part, this show just isn't that funny. Worse, for a play chosen to comment directly on an ongoing war and the bumbling choices of perhaps the dumbest man to ever lead the so-called free world, the satire isn't clever, provocative or intelligent enough to provoke outrage or even serious debate.
Director David Grant Mancini and his very game, very talented cast, have a great time exploding theatrical conventions—from characters commenting on the lack of production values to actors interacting with the audience—even breaking character at times to comment on the ongoing antics.
It's definitely different. But so is fucking a goat.
While the surreal, absurd, Marx-Brothers-missing-all-but-the-23rd-chromosome feel helps this Ubu succeed in subverting traditional ways of staging theater, it doesn't help when it comes to subversive politics. And when mounting a play like this, at a time like this—that's criminal. The most trenchant criticism of this show I heard came late in the 90-minute proceedings, when the scatologically obsessed, Bozo the Clown-like King Ubu and his henchmen, Piles and Lice, are attacked by a bear. The terrified King recites something that sounds like "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" in Latin while his subordinates battle the beast. One of those henchmen is on all fours, wearing boots on his hands and a plastic mask of an ass on his face, which prompted one audience member to mutter, "What the fuck?"
KING UBU AT THE EMPIRE THEATER, 200 N. BROADWAY, SANTA ANA, (714) 547-4688. THURS.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 2:30 P.M. THROUGH NOV 5. CALL FOR TICKET PRICES.