Going the distance


Atlantic Studio Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Ken Jaworowski

Dysteria is the comic equivalent of a New York City marathoner: a play that chugs along with joke after joke after joke and never stops moving. Like any runner, the show has its share of stumbles, but over the course of almost two hours Dysteria keeps a remarkable pace and never lacks for energy.

Billed as a sendup of a media-obsessed culture, Dysteria begins on a television screen then moves to live action, where a group of network executives brainstorms ideas for a sequel to their successful reality show Chained to a Loony. Taped segments are interspersed between sketches and mock the players behind such brainless programs as Dance Your Way Straight to Health. Juxtaposed with these are scenes from a mental hospital, where patients who seem as sane as their television counterparts plan an escape.

Although jokes about reality TV are quickly becoming old-hat, Dysteria skirted most cliches and stayed fresh. With 12 actors playing almost 40 characters, the risk of confusion was high, but this cast not only rose to the occasion: they ran with it. Marc Geller, as a self-help guru in episodes of Life is Bliss and as the smart-aleck sidekick Hopalong Harry in The Bronco Barry Show, displayed superb comic timing. Jeff Sproul and Ali Anderson, playing seven characters between them, brought bellylaughs to each, as did Ed Lingan, especially as the chain-smoking, plastic-pants-wearing Dancin’ Edmond.

More often than not, the writers (playfully credited only as "Four Monkeys") adopted a "throw it out there and see if it works" approach. And more often than not, it did. Whenever a joke floundered, there was another behind it, regaining the show’s momentum with a quick chuckle or an intentionally bad pun. Dysteria often felt like a nonstop series of Saturday Night Live skits, the difference being that Dysteria was goofier and, most times, funnier. At almost two hours, this one-act ran a bit too long, but what it lost in length it made up for in audacity.

Dysteria is unafraid to take chances and unembarrassed to be zany. A few sketches, such as a foul-mouthed Marx Brothers routine, fall flat, but they never last long enough to drag the show down. Indeed, the director (also uncredited) and cast of Dysteria supplied a marathon of jokes, and gave the audience a night of nearly nonstop laughs.

(Also featuring Anne Bates, Jim Cherry, Iris Espinosa, Carley Hauser, Risa Beth Lingan, Alvin Lotspeich, Kurt Taroff, Aransas Thomas, and Drew Wheeler.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2001 Ken Jaworowski