by Lisa Joy Reitman-Dobi
A dissolute celebrity koala checks into a motel.
Randomly Specific Theatre’s Koalas Are Dicks is perched on the perfect premise for a farce. Unfortunately, the play struggles for cohesion, consistency and clarity.
Playwright Larry Phillips is an astute observer. It is clear that in penning this piece, he cast a wide net, yielding a particularly vast haul of ripe material: our pandemic fascination with celebrity, the conceded absurdity of the sitcom, the toxic obsession with greed, the dissipation of decency and the perpetuation of maladroit stereotypes. Had Phillips been more shrewdly selective, focused and tightly structured, much of his catch could have played quite effectively. As it stands, the play struggles between ideas and execution, ultimately thwarting any success as a farce.
Peter Buck Bettmann is terrific in his role as Brody, the recalcitrant marsupial cokehead. His every gesture, every inflection deepens this intricate -and well-written- character. Often, Dettmann’s well-defined lead is the glue that holds the play together.
Brody’s handler, Hannah (Tiffany McRae) struggles not only with her cheeky charge, but with her character’s bumpy development. McRae, terrifically funny when the opportunity presents itself, does her best with an under-developed character defined almost exclusively by her perpetually high-strung reactivity.
Brody’s agent (Patrick T. Horn) has clear motivations. He’s an agent. There you have it. Horn could have cut a more levying figure, but did a good job at playing selfish yet suave corporate cog. Horn has some fine comedic moments but this character is faced with a problem that persisted throughout the play: inconsistency. The audience is led to believe that no one onstage can understand Brody’s often eloquent lines. Hannah is frequently tasked with translating Brody’s expressions and body language. This job is a useful vehicle and would offer some much-needed cohesion to the play. However, the direction often indicates comprehension and communication, particularly between Ross and Brody, where there ought to be none.
Playwright Larry Phillips appears as Davey, Brody’s amusing one-man entourage. Phillips’s Davey is coarse and candid but discernably well-intentioned in his own myopic way. Phillips is a funny guy. The play offers several good belly-laughs. That said, comedy is serious business and with some attention to some stiff rules of the craft, Phillips could execute some terrific work.
When Brody’s costar, Allison (Phoebe Leonard), arrives at the motel intent on getting her cash-cow-koala back on set, punctured logic pulls the plug on an otherwise effective frame for suspended disbelief. Leonard plays the diva to perfection. It’s a credit to her skills that she infuses her character with essential presence and gives an impressive amount of credibility to a most in-credible role by playing the comedy card to its fullest.
Koalas Are Dicks brims with stereotypes. Given that the piece is a loose spoof on the sitcom-world, of course this flies. When Shea the hooker (Griffin Hennelly) shows up, all the boxes have been checked. Unfortunately, Hennelly’s character is the one that pushes stereotyping from satirical to sloppy. Though it’s often difficult to discern skilled acting when witnessing a role which borders on the off-putting, Hennelly does a good job. Such successfully conveyed discomfiture isn’t possible without inarguable ability.
If Phillips were to revisit the script, he would do well to consider the crossroads of comedy, tragedy and farce.
Koalas Are Dicks is directed by Ben Liebert, with scenic design by Meg McGuigan and lighting design by Erik Fox. Original sitcom theme music “Koala In The House” is by David Ross Music and Larry Philips.
Photos: Joe Lintzeris
The show will run through February 24, 2018 at Theater 80 at St. Marks. Shows are Wednesday and Saturday evenings at 7 pm.
For information on tickets, visit their website: https://theatre80.wordpress.com/tickets/