The trouble with satire

Southern Discomfort

Most material written by Alan Friedman
With additional material by the company
Directed by Alan Thornton
Midtown International Festival
The New 42nd St. Theatre
348 W. 42nd St. 2nd fl. (279-4200)
Non-union production (Festival closes Aug. 5; call for schedule)
Review by Andrés J. Wrath

The problem with political satire is that it needs to be timely. Too much of Southern Discomfort deals with non-topical subjects like the Bush-Gore election and many things that have been lampooned on Comedy Central many many times before. Take for instance the skits about the Dow-Jones, and all the gags about its going down. Well, this week it went up, making the piece seem dated. Who knows? Maybe next week the skit will work better.

Southern Discomfort pokes fun at politics and the South through song parody. Its cast included Jeffrey Bigger, Alan Friedman, Nancy Riggs, Beth Robinette, Randy Roberson, Jay Rollin, Michelle Schroeder, Alan Thornton, Terri Thornton, and Leslie Truman. The accompanist was Frank Steele. The cast displayed ample energy, and the songs were sometimes funny, occasionally hilarious, but the premise doesn't seem fully worked out yet. Perhaps in a party atmosphere, as advertised in the program, the performers can mingle and move around using the space more wisely; at the Midtown International cabaret space the performers sometimes seemed oddly uncentered and stilted. The cast moved on the stage with less than committed energy and at times seemed as though they didn't know what the next song was. Their voices were good; perhaps if there were more focus they might have been better. Perhaps director Alan Thornton needed more time in the space to work out entrances and exits. Basically, the performers were likable but seemed displaced.

The performers phoned in their songs rather than expressed any commitment to them. Even in parody performers can play the given circumstances as life and death, rather than indicating, and mocking what they were saying. The only performer who seemed to be fully working was accompanist Frank Steele, whose playing kept things moving along.

One problem was the show had too many songs devoted to the same themes. For instance, did it need two songs devoted to aging? If the songs were longer, with more moments taken by the performers in each, then the audience would get the joke and move on. Many of the songs are very funny, however, and a lot of fun. The lyrics were changed to attack a certain subject. For example, the lyrics to "Downtown" were changed to "Downsize." Likewise, "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" was changed to "50 Ways Your Health Plan Will Refuse You." Now, if the structure of the evening had more focus, these funny lyrics could have been even funnier.

The uncredited lights and costumes did very little to enhance the evening. In fact it was forgettable.

 Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: N/A
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2001 Andrés J. Wrath