Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Big Uncut Flick

Sometimes we don’t want a massive production, especially when we want a comedy. And so Gracye Productions’ mounting of Todd Michael’s play The Big Uncut Flick (at The Studio Theatre at Theatre Row) fits the bill for a slight 75 minutes of fun. The show presents an afternoon TV movie program (the titular Big Uncut Flick) in 1953. There are two hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Matinee, aka Jack Sheldon and Arlene Lewis, who epitomize the bland complacency of the fifties. The script puts them squarely in the period. “As Senator Joe McCarthy would say,” says Jack, “Point of order, Mr. Chairman.” And “You think our commercials are annoying, you should see the ones they show on Russian TV.”

The rest of the cast perform on stage the day’s movie, a 1934 crime drama called Say Ya Prayers, Ya Mug. It’s about an ex-convict, a police sergeant, the ex-convict’s sister (who’s a nun), a singer, a nice girl from the mid-West just arrived in the city – in short, the whole crew of stock movie characters. We soon stop trying to follow the plot and just enjoy the writing. “Put a muzzle on the holy book lingo,” Michael writes. And “People who live in tin houses shouldn’t throw can openers.”

Michael gives some variation on the theme when the movie loses sound and the actors speak soundlessly, and when the film breaks and the actors slump forward like marionettes without strings.

Director Synge Maher keeps everything moving lickety-split during the movie; the pace is more laid back for the hosts. He creates a terrific tension between the tones of the two stage realities, juxtaposing 1953’s reflection of 1953 with 1934’s reflection of 1934. He’s captured the unique, unmistakable flavor of each.

Maher has cast actors as Arlene Lewis (Todd Geringswald) and the nun (David L. Zwiers), and he’s cast an actress (Melissa Firlit) as the police sergeant. The gender-jumping is successful in the first two instances, less so in the third. Craig MacArthur is right for Red, the ex-convict.

But all the cast have comic skill. The actors in the movie keep a consistent parodic tone; they’re cartoons.

Comedy doesn’t get broader than Say Ya Prayers, Ya Mug, and it’s well done. They’ve been directed to get all the comic mileage they can out of the cheap, urban diction of most of these characters – “It’s a good day for a double moydah,” for example.

But the show is at its best during the movie’s breaks, when we’re presented with a more subtle comedy from Mr. and Mrs. Matinee. Michael has given them stereotypically 50’s TV business, as when they call a woman at home for the game Prizes on the Line.

J. Richey Nash is terrific as Mr. Matinee. He flashes his teeth in a stage smile and clips his diction in a stage voice. He gets drunk without overdoing the comic shtick and nods off matter-of-factly. It’s great!

We grow a little tired of the heavy comic diction, but The Big Uncut Flick is great fun. We always want to have a parody like this included in our Off-Off-Broadway buffet.

Steve Capra
December 2016