Friday, January 15, 2010
MRT’s Fabuloso crushes inhibitions and salutes zaniness
Lowell’s Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) has an established and well-earned reputation for showcasing contemporary and brand-new plays, and its production of John Kolvenbach’s comedy Fabuloso continues this tradition. Fabuloso premiered in the Wellfleet Harbor Actor’s Theatre in 2008, and is now enjoying its largest production at the MRT.
The title may seem a bit pretentious, but “Fabuloso” is really a description of what it feels like to retrieve a lost, unfiltered and completely zany action from the depths of adolescence and experience it in the adult world. Kate (Rebecca Harris) and Teddy (Jeremiah Wiggins) are a young married couple living in a one-bedroom apartment. Kate works in a bank; Teddy is a soccer coach. Their existence is so normal that they are getting on each other’s (and their own) nerves. Scripted lower-case letters at the start of the lines, interruptive periods and pauses indicate a quiet tension that reflects the condition of Kate and Teddy’s marriage and sets up the wildness to come. Kate opens the play with: “making me crazy. (Pause) teddy. (Pause) making.me.crazy.”
Unconventional capitalization (and lack of it), punctuation, italics and pauses peppered throughout the script are Kolvenbach’s shorthand road map for the actors to interpret their lines, a device perfected by Shakespeare and refined still further by Edward Albee. Speech rhythms and speeds are ragged and off-balance, so that when the characters actually do explode into looniness, the behavior seems a natural result of what was simmering just beneath the surface all the time.
Into Kate and Teddy’s ordinary life bursts Arthur, an outsized Peter Pan of a character played by Chelmsford native Ed Jewett. Arthur, who once lived with Teddy’s family, arrives at the apartment at 3 a.m. with his equally over-the-top fiancée Samantha (Amy Kim Waschke), and they proceed to upend Teddy and Kate’s life together in a rapid series of madcap proceedings that recall French farce, Marx brothers comedies, the screwball comedies of the 1930s and ‘40s, situation comedies and Saturday Night Live skits, with a little theater of the absurd thrown in for good measure. They also call to mind the tricks children play on one another. As Arthur says, “But so, at 13, I move in with Teddy and it’s five years of bliss, pajamas and homework and getting Teddy in trouble.” And so it goes, until Arthur takes a bucket of water in the face and says with unalloyed satisfaction, “Fabuloso.” And that is only the climax, not the end.
Four fine actors bring the inane insanity to life for MRT audiences. Rebecca Harris’s Kate is superficially acerbic until Arthur and Samantha unravel and reveal her deep sense of fun. Jeremiah Wiggins plays Teddy’s unhappy timidity and inertia as a cover for a character who tumbles headlong into an uninhibited appreciation of lassitude and goofiness. Amy Kim Waschke imbues Samantha with childlike Marx Brothers mania that manipulates and drives the other characters to complete surrender to her crazy whims. Ed Jewett has come a long way since he starred in Annie as Daddy Warbucks at Chelmsford High School in 1985 under my direction.
Even then, however, his devotion to his craft was evident: on the day of dress rehearsal, Ed eschewed the skinhead wig provided for the famous Warbucks bald head and showed up with his head of glossy black hair shaved to a cueball, so that he could play the part unhindered and “without constant fear that the spirit glue would let go.” Two weeks later, he rented the Warbucks tuxedo, complete with the enormous diamond stud in the shirt, and wore it to his senior prom. He must have had a date with a sense of humor. The hair has long since grown back, but the devotion to craft is intact. Jewett’s affectionate, dependent, ecstatic and lunatic Arthur is finely tuned, impeccably timed, and absolutely the sort of character who would turn up at a prom looking like Daddy Warbucks. The quartet of actors together creates a frenzied chemistry and energy that is really what is “Fabuloso” about this play.
Fabuloso runs through January 31 and will be followed by the regional premiere of Black Pearl Sings! by Frank Higgins, opening February 11. For information and tickets, call the MRT at 1-978-654-4678 or visit www.merrimackrep.org. ∆
© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito