John Rustan and Frank Semerano's The Tangled Snarl and Carol Holland's Upstate Mourning are both over-the-top sitcom-derived style pieces designed to keep audiences roaring with laughter by exploiting and exaggerating established genre conventions. Each play has some clever plotting and snappy dialogue; their success depends largely on the degree to which the actors and directors can establish and keep up with the manic energy and precise pacing demanded by the material.
As directed by Daedra Khaeler, Upstate Mourning fell flat. The actors often seemed to be talking through or at each other rather than working off one another. The staging was unintentionally awkward and the limited design elements ludicrous (a recorded phone rings through a speaker far stage right, prompting an actor to answer the phone far stage left; a packing crate supposedly containing the coffin of an adult is brought onstage but is only about three-and-a-half-feet long.)
Some attempts were made at conveying the exaggerated characters, through their outlandish costumes and strident vocal choices. Sarah Dolan and Jennie Wyckoff shared a couple of moments as the exasperated daughter of a histrionic mother (Barbara Bleier) but that was the beginning and end of actual connection between the actors. Also featured were Ed Lipinski and Michael McLaughlin.
Following such an untidy production, Frank Calo's rendition of The Tangled Snarl felt like a mini-masterpiece, but was really just passable. Tommy Barz affected an amusingly deadpan delivery for his hardboiled Spuds Idaho. Carol T. Biaggi had some fine moments as femme fatale Leslie Deitweilder and Jena Richards showed promise as the young newspaper delivery boy. Also featured were Andrea Hoffman and Bill Davenport.
Calo kept the pace consistent and the laughs coming, letting the genuinely funny text do most of the work for him and encouraging his actors to do the same. The stage violence was clumsily executed, though, and some of the one-note jokes wore thin after a while.
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Copyright 2002 Frank Episale