If a night of good theatre is a main course unto itself, then the Mashup Festival at Landless is more like a pizza delivered after everyone else has gone to bed. The fun is in the shrugging indulgence of an added late-night meal, not in the quality of the food itself.
The festival, now playing at the Tivoli Theatre in Columbia Heights, is one of those guilty orders. Unlike most nocturnal joints, however, this place just doesn’t deliver.
Landless is offering up a handful of twisted, sporadically funny short plays, much like they have at this point in their previous two seasons. And although their goofy goals are admirable — the company has a weird, wonderful track record of campy frivolity and demented dark comedy — the pair of skits that played on Saturday night proved a bit of a labor to chew.
There’s nothing misguided about the idea behind the intentionally terrible new musical “Trapped in the Convent,” which mashes up R&B singer R. Kelly’s ongoing bizarro story album “Trapped in the Closet’ with the plot of “The Sound of Music.” Nor is there anything inherently unfunny about the TV spoof “True Blood Spatter,” which mashes up HBO’s “True Blood” with Showtime’s “Dexter.” It’s just that the plays (written by Producing Artistic Director Andrew Lloyd Baughman and Kerri Sheehan, respectively) take a few too many broad swings and end up missing most of the good targets.
In both cases, the schtick is mildly diverting and, occasionally, truly funny, but lacking that real flash of excitement or surprise. The plays strike a nicely off-kilter vibe throughout — Maria von Trapp is played, after all, by frequent Landless guest star Lucrezia Blozia, whose next five o’clock shadow is only hours away. And some punchlines are just too glaring to miss (Nazi jokes aren’t a subtle breed). One wishes, though, for some more daring play.
The novelty of R. Kelly (played by Patrick M. Doneghy) prowling the Alps is surprisingly durable, but the overall equation of “Trapped In The Convent” — which, by the way, is twenty minutes long and entirely lip-synched — is to set a straightforward, condensed plot summary of the Rodgers & Hammerstein show to the infamously monotonous beat underlying the entire R. Kelly opus. Unfortunately — and rather unsurprisingly — the musical stylings of “Trapped in the Closet” are its most egregiously uninteresting aspect. Rather than paying nominal homage to the sound of bad R&B, why not mash up the actual stories? How was it even possible to ignore the gangsters, drugs, and cabinet midgets that inspired Kelly’s bonkers epic in the first place?
“True Blood Spatter” runs longer and, somehow, has even less to say. The prospect for comedy here, in theory, lies in congruity rather than in contrast, since the two dramas take place in the same time period and only a few Southern states apart. So, what if Dexter and his sister Deborah packed up, left Miami, and landed in Bon Temps among the sexy, supernatural critters of HBO? The idea may catch the eye of a television producer nostalgic for the era of crossovers, but is it funny? Well, there are a couple of good gags, the most funny of which puts Sookie Stackhouse’s telepathic abilities up against Dexter’s sardonic inner monologue, but even this joke is funny twice, not ten times. What unfolds, weirdly and rather ploddingly, is a beginner’s spec script, not a send-up. Sure, “True Blood Spatter” wouldn’t feel complete without some good stalking (and staking) of a vampire maniac. But must it feel so procedural?
The 3rd Annual Mashup Festival:
True Blood Spatter
Trapped in the Convent
1 hour 10 minutes with an intermission
GALA Hispanic Theatre
at the Tivoli Theatre
3333 14th Street, NW
Details and tickets
“True Blood Spatter” and “Trapped in the Convent” play again on the 21st and 27th. The other two twin skits in the Mashup series play on the 14th, 22nd, and 28th, and one hopes they find a way to hit the more outrageous aspects of their source material head-on. Called the Re-Animated Edition, those two are “The Walking Fred,” which mashes up AMC’s The Walking Dead with The Flintstones, and “Saving Private Poo,” which mashes up “Saving Private Ryan” with Winnie The Pooh (whether the omission of Winnie’s final ‘h’ is intentionally scatalogical or simply a typo is, for now, unclear).
The city is full of far worse ways to delay your bedtime by an hour or two. Lord knows Team Landless is having a great time here, and anyone who has checked out the company in the past likely feels enough loyalty to come support. If so, swing by and check it out. It’s not a bad way of running down the day’s clock, especially if you get a few friends to tag along. The bar in the lobby makes for a welcome stop as well — this silly sojourn would wash down well with a good drinking game.
3rd Annual Mashup Festival: “True Blood Spatter” by Kerri Sheehan and directed by Chris Griffin . “Trapped in the Convent” by Andrew Lloyd Baughman and directed by Karissa Swanigan . Produced by Landless Theatre Company . Reviewed by Hunter Styles