Heinie Goochems – How I Met Oh Brother
A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
Let me say this: writing a play is really fucking hard. I know. I do it. Here is my advice to those who do it, too: see plays. See a lot of plays. See (and read) a shitload of plays. If you have to, create a review blog where you can say “fuck” a lot to force yourself to see as many plays as you can. You have to steep yourself in plays, in words, words, words, words, words. You’ve got to see plays to decide what you like, what you don’t like, what touches you, why theater is different than any other sort of medium. And then you’ve got to muse on what words you want to put in the world and, more importantly, why. I don’t think that Larry Malkus, the playwright of Heinie Goochems, now playing at Fells Point Corner Theatre, has seen a whole lot of plays. I do believe that he’s watched a lot of television, because the experience I had in watching his show was EXACTLY like being in the studio audience of any sitcom that you would flip on at around seven o’clock while you’re cooking dinner. And I mean it’s TV-like right down to the musical “bumps” that take you out of one scene and into another (Sound Design by Max Garner). This is not, in and of itself, a bad thing, but it leads to a play where there isn’t a lot of there there. And, of course, there is a reason that most sitcoms are a half an hour (twenty-three minutes, with commercials). A play in this style at around two hours starts to seem like watching the feed of a nanny cam in the home of the world’s most average people. And who are those people? Why, there’s Junior Laramie (Anthony Scimonelli), a “house-husband” stay-at-home-dad and his lovely wife, Kelly (Laura Malkus). Junior and Kelly clearly live a comfortable upper middle-class life where nothing much really happens. Right on cue, a slew of quirky neighbors pop in and out to spice things up. There’s Carlos (Steve Sagan) who rents the basement apartment, is Mexican, has no discernible legal employment, grows weed and has tattoos. There’s Stephanie (Marianne Germaine), the MILFy neighbor who has a thing for Junior and whose wardrobe appears to be comprised entirely of animal prints. She hangs around with her son, George (Sean Kelly) a nerdish college-age virgin who eventually hooks up with Miss Jessica (Rachel Reckling), a gum-popping, Facebooking-checking, Snap-chatting incompetent cutie of a babysitter. Kelly even has a sassy sidekick in the form of her BFF Cathy Carlson (Shelly Petersen) who comes over to drink white wine and gab about her crush on Dr. Cal Hepner (Jason Tinney), a “concierge veterinarian” with a tight ass and a Southern accent. These people like to talk. And what do they talk about? Moms that try to have it all, Cosmo sex tips (all PG, natch), date nights, Dr. Phil, D-I-V-O-R-C-E, potty training, the trials of finding really good help. Hijinks ensue, of course. Kisses are misconstrued, “pussy” is used as a double entendre, Cathy starts hooking up with the Spanish dude after Dr. Cal turns out to be slimy. There is a lack of central tension in the script that makes it hard to say what it’s all really about, but if I had to guess, I would say that it’s maybe about the emasculation of Junior in the face of his slightly non-gender conforming role? But it’s a gentle conflict that’s resolved neatly and lovingly at the end with not much difficulty along the way. In fact, the whole thing is extremely easy. We are absolutely sure it’ll all work out. And it does. There is one scene, though, one scene that I really liked. It comes at the very end of the show and it, frankly, caught me off guard. It was voyeuristic and weird and kind of challenging to understand why Kelly would make the decision to behave that way (trying not to spolierz here). I liked it because, for a second, I had to think. I felt engaged in understanding instead of just passively accepting. That scene that proved to me that Malkus isn’t merely a quipster and made me want to see more of his work. Scimonelli and (the female) Malkus are perfectly serviceable in their parts in a kind of squirrely way that, again, is waiting for the Colgate commercial. Petersen does the best she can with what she’s got and Germaine (who, though no twenty-year-old, has a bod that won’t quit. #hereshoping) is pretty funny even if Stephanie is eyerollingly cougariffic. Sagan’s character is tough because it’s written as the most stereotypical Hispanic individual possible and the Speedy Gonzales accent combined with the whole “only speaking Spanish words white people know” thing like “manana”, “gracias” and a bevy of “Si”s and “Por que”s don’t help matters. Favorite for me were Reckling and Kelly who made me genuinely laugh a couple of times. In fact, Kelly imitating Reckling’s affect at one point was the funniest part of the play. I thought the set design by Chris Flint was lovely and I truly envy the chair railings (although, with a threeish year-old in the house – it’s hard to tell the kid’s age because he is supposed to be potty-training but also has to be carried everywhere because he is a doll – you’d think there’d be more clutter around, it’s too clean). Lights by Bob Dover did the trick, though like the script and performances, they were a little overly bright.
BOTTOM LINE: If you took every sitcom produced in the last, oh, fifteen to twenty years, put them in a blender and poured what came out onto the stage, you’d have Heinie Goochems. I am not really the audience for this. While I admired the effort it clearly took to create, I found the humor rather stale, the stereotyping jarring and the whole thing very surface. But there is a reason that millions of people tune into Three and Half Men every week and Friends is considered one of our most beloved cultural artifacts. If you know what that reason is, you’ll like it.
Running at Fells Point Corner Theatre until July 27th.
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