Tales of Ordinary Madness- A Prague-nant Pause
Freedom: it’s all fun and games until someone cuts their penis off in a sink. Tales of Ordinary Madness, now at Fells Point Corner Theatre, has the sink fucking scene, all right. It also has an older gentleman masturbating beer bottles, an intensely dramatic onstage blow job, some mannequin finger banging and a dash of mother/son bloodletting. And it’s kind of a comedy. Well, sort of. Dark comedy doesn’t really cover what this is – it’s more like comedy of the uncanny valley. So OBVS wayyyy up my alley. Written by Petr Zelenka in 2001, the play is set in his home Czech Republic in the years directly following the end of Soviet repression, during the first real burst of relative freedom. Knowing that, you might assume that the themes are vastly serious, but they’re really not – the politics are strictly proletariat. This is a play about folks. Weird and perverted folks, yeah, but folks all the same. We’ve got Peter (Tucker Foltz), a 30ish guy-just-a-guy who has broken up with the love of his life, Jeanette (Jessica Taylor). He exists in his small apartment, which manages to be both barren and cluttered, stuffed with boxes of what we later find out are newspaper clippings (set design by Bush Greenbeck). He’s got some friends and family. We meet Midge (Alexander Scally), a buddy who has accepted his failures with women and is obsessed with finding new household appliances to stick his dick into and Peter’s Mother (Helenmary Ball) and Father (Daniel Douek) a couple of the older country who might be slowly losing it to dementia based on mom’s excessive barking like a Pomeranian and dad’s obsession with the aforementioned beer bottles. Also around are the couple next door, Alice and George, (Lisa Bryan and Rick Lyon-Vaden) who have explosive screaming arguments that bother Peter until the day that they come over and explain that they’d like him to watch them fuck, please, if he would. Eventually Sylvia (Michal Roxie Johnson), dad’s hot mistress, enters the picture and Anna (Mimi Dang), who cleans for/dates/fucks/prostitutes/teaches modern dance to Midge until she kind of becomes a mannequin named Eve. If all this sounds a touch confusing, that’s because it is and director Barry Feinstein wisely just lets it be. For a good two hours, you sit there and watch while a lot happens and nothing happens at the same time. People come in, they go out, they say weird shit, they do weird shit, sometimes it’s funny, mostly it’s awkward and then lights up. Like a diver coming up too fast and getting the bends, this play isn’t about freedom – it’s about repression and the too sudden end of that repression. To our American eyes, the pacing and adolescent sexuality seems biz-fucking-arre but, well, not everyone is American, you know? Fuck someone over hard for fifty years and then observe the jokes they make and you’ll see my point. Performances were allll over the map. I was in love, for instance, with Helenmary Ball. This silver-haired beauty is my official spirit animal. Every time she was onstage she took it, and took it good. She managed to be both homey and frightening at the same time, like finding out your mother-in-law is also Vlad the Impaler. Similarly, Daniel Douek’s Father, a bashful former “voice” of the Communist news reports who is equally at home wearing his wife’s clothing or smoking a little weed with his girlfriend was ab-so-lute-ly purrrrfect. When he came on I floated away on a pink a river of delight. I’d watch that man read the phone book (and no one reads the phone book anymore). I was also fascinated watching Lisa Bryan’s Alice, a slinky minx oozing around the stage whilst giving new meaning to the phrase “eye fucking”. God, does that child give good nuts. Her George, Rick Lyon-Vaden, was, for me, one of the funniest in the show, a deadeyed deadpan political activist slowly figuring out that political activists aren’t in vogue (and also that it certainly doesn’t make a woman wet to spray your urine on a courtroom anymore, #whatistheworldcomingto). But I found Tucker Foltz’s Peter and Alexander Scally’s Midge just meh. I mean, they both give it the old college try, but they can’t quite access the funny or heighten the absurd enough in their characters and end up falling flat. And I don’t know where the hell Jessica Taylor was, but it wasn’t at Fells Point Corner Theatre, not on the night I saw her. Girl was seriously just going through the motions.
Bottom Line: Tales of Ordinary Madness is a gentle mess akin to attempting to work a crossword puzzle in your third language. The performances are uneven, the comedy hella awkward…but the whole is somehow worth more than the sum of its parts. It’s real weird, but also oddly really compelling and unlike anything I’ve seen. I wasn’t disappointed and I don’t think you will be either. See it.
Running at Fells Point Corner Theatre until March 2nd.
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