Just a show whose intentions are good
KC Fringe Festival
Cultural Confrontation is subtitled "Laugh at Everybody", seemingly billing itself as an equal-opportunity offender. Be not fooled: this is a show with its heart on its sleeve, and it knows exactly who it's rooting for. Unfortunately, it does it so very clumsily that one comes away uncertain if it actually helped at all.
The premise is a game show, hosted by the boisterous Craig Scott (Jerry Nevins), in which the reigning champions Us (the rich, the beautiful, the carnivorous) square off against newcomers Them (GBLT, French, guru and vegetarian). The show is presented in a series of individual "rounds", each one bringing at least one and sometimes two comic songs. This all builds up the big group round, for all the marbles. No fair guessing which team pulls it off.
Author Jack Phillips, we are informed, has a penchant for witty song lyrics and offbeat humor. While I will freely own he has the offbeat part down pat, I question the rest. Wit involves subtlety and incisiveness; what we have here is the equivalent of being hit with a mac truck. Spike Lee would tell this guy to tone it down a little (come to think of it, so would Spike Jones). The Us team leader Rex Usman (Ray Ettinger), in top hat and tails looking like nothing less then the Burgess Meredith Penguin, is accompanied by his carnivorous/cannabalistic partner Dominasia Savage (Marcie Ramirez), "Super-facial" spokesmodel Tiffany Clench (Nicole Hall) and Joe Troop (Jaimie Lin). How I wish I were making these names up.
On the other side we have Frank Benjamin (Carter Ellis) singing the praises of veganism, Leticia Contraire (Bethany Hall) who wishes for the "Frenchification" of America--when she can remember to do the accent, Mukta Imani (Tafik Muhammad) as a sort of guru, and JoAnne Rainbow (Jaimie Lin again) as the... well, not sure if she's meant to be a gay male drag queen, or a transwoman, or some nebulous combination thereof. I'm not sure the playwright knew either. Anyway, we are towed from one beat-you-over-the-head song to the next, allowing the characters (such as they are) a bit of development through interaction back and forth between the teams. Old secrets are revealed, and all plot threads come together neatly as any situation comedy, with which this has more than a little in common. Eventually, one finds oneself sitting back and waiting for the surprise plot twist that was rather loudly telegraphed back in act one to hurry up and resolve already so we can all pretend to be s!
urprised and go home.
I suppose it does deserve a bit of credit for the ending, in which the teams are brought together. Honestly was more than I was expecting at that point. And one or two of the songs are not too bad--the second act belter "If It Weren't For All The Assholes" being a particular highlight. Overall, though, the delivery is clumsy and heavy-handed, the singing uneven, the audio was frankly a shambles (I'll give them a mulligan on that one; when you have several shows sharing a venue and trading off in rapid succession, tech glitches are frankly inevitable). I found it particularly disappointing because, frankly, I agree with a lot that it had to say. If only they could find a better way of saying it all. But frankly, when Fox News comes off as subtle and nuanced by comparison, it may be time to go back to the drawing board.