I’ve got a confession to make.
I’m a virgin.
When it comes to going to going to Landless Theatre Company, I’ve never done it.
I don’t know what I was waiting for.
By ‘mash up’ Landless means four plays by four authors, meshing and mashing and sometimes gnashing together to come up with something new, if not better. On weekends, you get two shows with two plays in each, the early show more or less fit for family consumption at 7:30, the second a more adult geared late show around 10pm.
Things start off with something called Pii-Wii’s Big Poseidon Adventure, which seem to have elements of a Japanese video game and Pee Wee Herman trapped among the characters of “The Poseidon Adventure.” It’s paired with the delightful mash-up of “Jaws” and the surviving spirit of Bob Fosse which gets you All That Jaws.
The late show—ostensibly for the more refined and triple xxx tastes of adults—features a timely matchup and mashup of the hugely popular television series “Glee” with the destructive tendencies of “Scream”, a series of also hugely popular slasher movies of yore. The result—voila! — is Gleeam and not a moment too soon either. Last on the bill is Tarxxxanadu, by Chris Griffin from Cherry Red productions, about a porn film shoot and the terrible things that can happen.
So what’s the payoff?
A whole lot of fun, whether you go for the milder stuff or the stronger flavors of the late show. Not all of it, mind you, but that’s probably not the fault of the actors. Pii Wii or Pee Wee, in the Poseidon or out, seems to be a character impossible to parody, but Mickey D. Daguiso’s frantic, deadpan herky-jerky self-involved and mean energy almost does the trick.
The rest of the cast has the difficult job of sending up, or is it upside down, some of the original trapped “Poseidon Adventure” passengers. Survivors — from the movie — include the haunted ex-priest, the engineer, the captain (but not for long), two girls who think they’re Pii-Wii dates, and in a wonderful turn by Amy Kellett, a French singer breaking out into an accented “There’s Got to Be a Morning After” while stripping down to her underwear.
Things work a lot better in All That Jaws, written by Kerri Sheehan. Who would have thought that the spirit of Bob Fosse could emerge—like a shadowy burlesque land shark out of the waters of the shores of a New England resort town? Not me. Somehow, “All That Jaws”, the song version, and bitter pills from Chicago, like “We Should Go Chumming”, a la “He Had it Coming”, emerge unscathed full of zest and vigor and Fosse vulgarity. And the story of the killer shark, the mayor, the sheriff and the guys who need a bigger boat is told almost like homage to Mary Zimmerman, what with toy shark and toy boats and so on.
Better still was Gleeam, mashed up, and written by Landless artistic director Andrew Baughman. “Glee”, a one-hour television show about a pack of misfit high school kids who join the school glee club, get involved, with each other, sing a lot, and perform in weekly production numbers which have become increasingly elaborate, featuring big stars (Gwyneth Paltrow took a gleeful turn) and bigger production values.
Gleeam, like a World War II movie, features an array of politically correct types which seemed refreshing at first, the Bette Davis-style villainness, the good teacher, a pastiche of pretty girls and pretty boys, rock stars, one boy in a wheelchair, a black girl fighting obesity with a big voice, a baby faced misfit, a sensitive athlete. This is an approach whose shelf life is precarious—you can feel the sharks circling out there in Access Hollywood land.
Luckily for us, in this version at least, the leery-masked killer from “Scream” is stalking the members of the cast, knocking them off one by one, by one, and sometimes two at a time to move things along. Baughman, I think smartly, has cut up Gleeam just at a moment when it’s threatening to be a pop culture juggernaut. He’s dead on in the generic approach to the characters: black girl, gay kid, the lead singer and coaches, played and sung with great aplomb by the gifted Karissa Swanigan, sensitive Jock, played by bewildered Steve Custer, and wheelchair kid, among others. There is also a wonderful trio of cheerleader sluts, one of them played with alarming sincerity by Lucrezia Blozia [whom you may have seen recently in Cherry Red’s Wife Swappers] , a Washington treasure.
This isn’t just a case of murder: the killer kills, then resurrects the victims as the boring, regular kids they are threatening to become with each passing show.
But wait – didn’t I mention something about a porn film shoot? I’m leaving the review of Tarxxxanaduto my colleague Joel Markowitz.
“The Mash Up Fest”, and the Landless folks, appear to be smooching cousins of Cherry Red Productions, without the latter’s willingness to find the line where audience members might retch. They come from a long line of American theater humor that comes straight out of Chicago and the Second City tradition. You can find it on “Saturday Night Live”, (where the Church Lady returned to take on the Kardashian girls), it’s skit and sketch humor, with roots in Mad Magazine and National Lampoon, with a dose of obsessive concern with pop culture and how it rots our brains. It’s hit-and-miss comedy, some of it sinking like an ill-fated luxury liner, some of it as smart as a whip, and some of it just plain self-indulgently funny, thank god.
In the Mash Up Fest, you have to kiss some frogs—but not too many—to come to the wit and the yuks.
Landless Theatre Mash Up Fest:
Pii-Wii’s Big Poseidon Adventure
by Jon Gann
Directed by Melissa Baughman
All that Jaws
by Kerri Sheehan
directed by Andrew Baughman
Book and Music by Andrew Baughman
Lyrics by Randy Blair
Directed by Emily Jablonski
Written and Directed by Chris Griffin