The good people at Wild Rumpus Productions should thank the deities of all the varied pantheons they found Manu Kumasi, star of solo comedy Sanka, Ya Dead Mon?. With off-the-chart presence and a natural comedian’s instinct Kumasi is never less than charmingly watchable. Unfortunately not even Kumasi’s considerable talents are able to keep Philip Dallmann’s cliched script running cool.
Dallmann’s story, such as it is, concerns the post-breakup odyssey of Kumasi’s Ben. After a very tedious opening act of Office Space-style workaday drudgery that’s heavy on the cliché but light on the comedy, Ben returns home to an unceremonious dumping. Ben, and the plot, then proceed to meander through a series of bland post-breakup set pieces, none of which are written with enough uniqueness, conflict, or heat to leave much of an impact.
Most distressingly, Dallmann has crafted a blandly unlikeable lead character in Ben. Condescending to his co-workers, passive around his friends, Kumasi’s Ben takes those around him to task for the most venial of sins while luxuriating in his own put-upon “nice”-ness. Poor dumped Ben, you see, is so responsible and so romantic and such a great catch that he’s sacrificed his musical aspirations for an office gig in order to save up for Kimberly’s perfect $19,000 dollar engagement ring.
Post-breakup, Ben’s pothead friend Chris sends him packing on a three week vacation touring the eastern seaboard, visiting ever-supportive friends and family, with a small fortune to spend. Recent dumping aside, most would kill to have this man’s problems.
Most of the jokes are of the most basic observational comedy types you might hear at an open mic or in a mediocre sitcom. We get industry standard jabs annoying co-workers, lusty women, and greasy fast food lunches. Ethnic and sexual stereotypes abound. Several dream sequence flashbacks attempt to cram in some psychological shading for it’s lead, but their stabs at seriousness throw off the pace while not being surreal enough to be fun.
Sanka, Ya Dead Mon?
by Philip Dallmann
at Caos on F
923 F Street NW
Washington, DC, 20004
Details and tickets
When it’s working Sanka delivers some light chuckles, maybe one or two honest guffaws. The show is rarely funnier than when Kumasi takes on Ben’s saintly and flamboyant friend Tommy and tries to lighten Ben’s pain with copious pinot grigio. At its worst Ben, and Sanka as a whole, comes off self-satisfied and smug. Ben’s early extended series of low blows on a corpulent coworker is especially unfunny. A very last second climactic revelation feels thoroughly unearned.
Throughout the proceedings Kumasi does his admirable best to lend the night all possible charm. A great physical comedian, Kumasi keeps the various characters physically, sharply distinct. His accent and dialect work is generally fine, although I did note some characters unique voices slipping into each other’s bodies a few times. Throughout, Kumasi retains his effortless charm. It’s telling that the night’s biggest laugh came from Kumasi’s smooth handling of a phallic costume malfunction. Be on the lookout for his name in the future.
A note on that title. It may perk the ears of a very specific segment of Generations X and Millennial. A bit of nostalgia-bombing on Dallmann’s part, it refers to 1993’s Jamaican bobsledding opus (and noted Doug E. Doug vehicle) Cool Runnings. But those who seek the play out in hopes it offers a fun riff on a treasured memory of their childhood (like, oh say, a reviewer in his early 30’s) will be disappointed. References to film make only the briefest, fleeting appearances in the script, primarily in scenes involving the ever-stoned Chris. A cynical sort might think the title was a Hail-Mary attempt to make something – anything – about Sanka stand out from the dude-done-got-dumped solo show crowd. Lightly charming, but blandly self-satisfied, Sanka works best as a showcase for one of the region’s brightest stage talents.