Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Theater review: Caldwell stumbles with unfunny take on Jekyll and Hyde

Amy Elane Anderson, Wynn Harmon and Tom Wahl
in Chemical Imbalance.

By Hap Erstein

After a string of recent successes, Boca Raton’s Caldwell Theatre has stumbled badly with its current production, Chemical Imbalance, a spoof of Victorian theater conventions in general and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde specifically.

Artistic director Clive Cholerton’s introductory remarks make it clear that there is nothing serious going on in the show and its only reason for being is to convulse us into hysterical laughter.

The problem is it just isn’t funny, as it becomes quickly and painfully obvious, over the course of the short, but not short enough, 80 minutes that Chemical Imbalance spans. The running time is so brief that no intermission is necessary, and chances are the audience would stampede out of the theater at half time if there were one.

Cholerton has again attracted a terrific cast, but few if any manage to escape the experience unscathed. Tom Wahl plays Dr. Henry Jekyll, as well as his alter ego, the evil incarnate Mr. Hyde, a potential tour de force pair of roles, but his performances are too bland to stand out from the rest of the company.

They are uniformly broad and artificial, an acting style that signals they are pressing too hard for laughs, the surest way not to earn them. Most of Wahl’s transformation into Hyde is focused on a pair of false buck teeth. (Picture Jerry Lewis in The Nutty Professor, alas.)

The very talented John Felix is reduced to a sight gag as Lady Throckmortonshire, looking like a fugitive from a production of The Importance of Being Earnest. At least costume designer Alberto Arroyo had fun coming up with her over-the-top frock and hats.

Playwright Lauren Wilson diverges rapidly from the specifics of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic thriller, tossing in a pair of Bad Seed twin tots, Penelope and Calliope, opposite sides of the good and evil coin. Tiffany-Leigh Moscow -- of 2001’s Concertina’s Rainbow -- doesn’t have much to do besides entering and announcing which twin she is at the moment (“I’m the good one”), yet she manages to get decent mileage from the one-note assignment.

The amusing Erin Joy Schmidt plays Jekyll’s Sapphic sister Ambrosia and, if I’m not mistaken, she might be channeling Cloris Leachman from Young Frankenstein. Or not. Angie Radosh pops up as his mother, but both actresses have difficulty competing with their wigs, which simply make a more indelible impression.

Amy Elane Anderson, a recent discovery at GableStage, is burdened with the role of Rosamunda Dewthistle, whose purpose seems to be to lose parts of her breakaway costume in stages. She is the only possible reason to wish that Chemical Imbalance were just a little bit longer.

The bottom line is that Cholerton, who hit the ground running as the Caldwell’s new honcho, shows little facility for comedy. The bottom-bottom line is that Wilson’s play is hopelessly witless. That might take Cholerton off the hook, except that he’s the one who selected the thing for his season.

I predict it is going to be a long month at the Caldwell. The distressing thing is that these actors have to keep returning night after night to try and breathe some life into this silly mess.

CHEMICAL IMBALANCE, Caldwell Theatre Co.., 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Through Feb. 7. Tickets: $34-$55. Call: (561) 241-7432.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Contrary to the abysmal local reviews, this romp/farce is so silly it's fun. See for yourself.
IR (1.23.10 performance)