Skit happens

Culture Shock

By Rich Stone
Directed by Adrienne Kupper
American Renaissance Theatre of Dramatic Arts (924-6862)
Don't Tell Mama (343 W. 46th St.)
Non-union production (closes Dec 20)
Review by Sarah Stevenson

A series of five satirical skits, Culture Shock ranges in setting from Elizabethan England to modern-day America. Although each is amusing in its own right, none of the sketches presents its material in overly fresh perspectives. Each has occasional flashes of wit, and the trio of actors, Eli Ganias, Quiche Kemble, and Rich Stone (also the author) provided a wide range of entertaining caricatures, but there was certainly no ``shock'' to the thin satires.

In ``Behind Every Great Man,'' Ganias played Shakespeare, Kemble was his put-upon wife, Anne Hathaway, and Stone was the tragedian Richard Burbage. Shakespeare (of course) was actually a really bad playwright -- his plots derived from Shwarzenegger films and he envisioned the opening scene of Hamlet as the prince debating in ``which apartment'' to kill Claudius: ``2B? No, not 2B, that's out of the question.'' The Bard's heavy Brooklyn accent emphasized rather heavy-handedly that he was not the elitist poet of high culture but a purveyor of entertainment for the masses. His wife Anne (of course) rewrites all the plays. The one truly clever moment in this sketch came during an argument between the couple over the fact that Hathaway refuses to take Shakespeare's name. Anne's defense -- that ``Hathaway'' is more poetic than ``Shakespeare'' -- can't compete with Shakespeare's rebuttal: ``Even Bacon's wife took his name!''

In the second skit, ``For the Good of the Children,'' Shakespeare was again the issue -- this time in a school board's attempt to ban or rewrite Romeo and Juliet so that it is no longer offensive to Reed's fundamentalist moral view and Christine's feminist political views. The religious and political correctness debate seemed tired from the beginning and went on too long, but a fresh point of view was provided in the Don's decision to join their banning on the grounds that Romeo and Juliet ``perpetuates the myth that Italian families indulge in blood feuds against each other.''

``Who's on First'' was intended as a commentary on closeted sports heroes, forced to act macho by society's standards. It attempted to accomplish this by having Stone and Ganias, players on opposing teams, queening about and discussing antiques and then alternately spitting and scratching their balls. Hardly adventurous territory for a satire. And does anybody not know yet that Disney rewrites history for its animated musicals? ``Coming Soon to a Theater Near You'' makes sure you do, as a young writer ends up penning ``Annie Frank: The musical.''

A spoof of date rape trials was the most inventive of the sketches. In dramatizing the alleged rape of Olive Oyl by Bluto when Popeye was away, ``Inside America's Courts'' included a glorious description of ``event:'' ``His lips started to elongate towards me, so I elongated my neck a few feet to escape,'' but when, tragically, her neck had elongated as far as it could go, the dreaded kiss occurred! Her testimony, however, is invalidated by the fact that in a past episode, her eyeballs had turned themselves to red pulsating hearts at the sight of him, so she must have wanted him....

Stone's manipulation of the Popeye cartoon was extremely clever, and there were similar touches throughout, occasionally lifting ``Culture Shock'' to the height of good satire. For the most part, however, it never rose above mere skit.

Box Score:
Writing 0
Directing 0
Acting 1
Set 0
Costumes 1
Lighting/Sound 1
Copyright 1996 Sarah Stevenson

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