In an Off-Off-Broadway musical landscape of bipolar personality disorder -- the two poles being Sondheim soundalikes and Urinetown ripoffs -- it is refreshing to come across a musical that makes no attempt to join either camp. The youthful creators and performers of the Godlight Theatre Company have drawn a new line in the desert sand, and not down the middle, either.
The story, loosely construed, is a quest for enlightenment by the protagonist, Kerry (Brian Farley). He starts out at the American Can Co. ("American Can Can"), but quits when told to lay off everyone in the canning plant, including his own father. (The rupture occurs simultaneously with his acquiring a golden apple, like the one that started the Trojan War.) The corporate path closed, he pursues wisdom as a monk -- one of four monks (known as the Five Monks) who spend their time hitting and punching each other in the head. Forced to leave monkhood when he questions their mindless activity, he wanders through various absurd scenarios, including visiting aliens, right-wing conspiracy theories, Greek mythology, the Knights Templar, and mind-altering drugs, each situation typically illustrated by a weird production number and funny if wacky dialog. ("Why does God's son have a Puerto Rican name?" "I am the Alpha and the Bodega.") The story tends to collapse under the weight of its absurdity and peters out rather than coming to a more traditionally satisfying conclusion, although the idea of a deus ex machina in the form of a Magic Eight Ball, which answers questions put to it, has a certain anti-Aristotelian allure. (There was also a deus ex machina in the form of a bum, but that's a god of a different color.) In short, everything went into the blender, and the tastes tended to get blurred.
The songs are more satisfying than the diffuse storyline. Pointed lyrics with zany imagery combine with listenable tunes.
All the actors approached the show with humor and energy, qualities that count for a lot. Rob Maitner was amusing as conspiracy theorist Bob Dobbs (he also played a manager in the corporate world). Apart from Farley and Maitner, the general level of performance was not high, tending toward broad-stroke acting and thin singing (the latter especially among the women), so that it was sometimes hard to make out dialog or lyrics in the tiny theatre (intimately configured in three-quarter round). The dancing (choreographed by Ryan Harrington and Carol Wei) tended toward the lowest common denominator of technical ability. But these limitations, imposed by an unknown company's doing an unknown show at the lowest level, didn't hide the genuine fun had by all, including the audience.
The costumes (Christian Couture) were colorful and appropriate, representing a plethora of characters, including alluring space aliens. The lighting effects (Jason Rainone), while hampered by a paucity of instruments, included an effective "sky" of Christmas lights. The sound was inventive, including some very creditable explosions.
It is to be hoped that this young company will continue to stretch their limits. Unfinished talent coupled with a desire to improve will go a lot further than no talent and a desire to impress, any day.
Book: 1/Lyrics: 2/Music: 2
Musical Direction/Directing/Choreography: 1
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Copyright 2003 John Chatterton