Commedia Is Not Funny
Photo by Jay FraleyA 10-minute sketch stretched to an hour and a half, the success of Rude Guerilla's commedia dell'arte Halloween production, Things That Go Bump, depends on how well you know the company and how much you like those interminable Saturday Night Live bits that seem to just keep going.
The "plot" centers on the Count (Andrew Nienaber), who has come to the nexus of all evil (Irvine) to summon his master, the Dark Lord. Assisted by his pumpkin-headed servant, Gourdo (Sean Cox), and Greta, the Goth priestess (Cathy Petz), the Count shanghais the virginal Emma (Kelly Quigley), turning her from repressed Vanguard University student into a riding crop-wielding, Sex and the City-obsessed vampire babe. Unfortunately for the Count, the vengeful Gypsy, Madame Zorga (Aurelio Locsin) and her son, Rufus the dog-boy (Damon Hill), are working hard to thwart his efforts.
Despite some funny moments (the criminally underused Mr. Hill howling a doggy version of Only You to Greta; Emma's double major in math and biblical studies at Vanguard, prompting Cox's line "Oh, two plus two equals Jesus!"), Things That Go Bump is a mess. After a strong start, the cast quickly loses focus and runs out of steam. The mostly improvised dialogue results in a lot of scenes that go nowhere and take forever getting there, as the cast tries out bits and business that was probably very funny in rehearsal but which, like the Count, never should see the light of day.
When done right, commedia is a highly technical, challenging genre; it's all about pace and precision, the overriding intention being getting through the scene and on to the next. Relying on improvisation that isn't makes precision impossible and pace dependent, as the program says, "on the whim of the actors," most of whom seem to believe that, as Cox put it, "if it doesn't work the first time, it'll work the 15th time." If only we didn't have to sit through 14 failed attempts before reaching that magic number.
THINGS THAT GO BUMP AT THE EMPIRE THEATER, 200 N. BROADWAY, SANTA ANA, (714) 547-4688. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 2:30 P.M. THROUGH NOV. 3. $12-$15; $6.50 IF YOU SHOW UP ON HALLOWEEN IN COSTUME.
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