Review: ‘The Big Funk’

Playwright John Patrick Shanley tackles masculinity, mythology and the millennium in this West Coast preem, which features fine ensemble acting and sharp directing by Jules Aaron.

Playwright John Patrick Shanley tackles masculinity, mythology and the millennium in this West Coast preem, which features fine ensemble acting and sharp directing by Jules Aaron.

The dramatic comedy is one of Shanley’s most forthright philosophical pieces, mixing theatrical conventions like the play-within-a-play, speeches to the audience and leaps in time and action. All the while, Shanley cogently weaves the play into a subtle and complex essay on modern life at the end of the 20th century.

Shanley’s characters bear his trademark poignancy and quirkiness but also echo larger, more universal characters. Omar (DK Kelly), a retired knife-thrower who can no longer “hit the dot,” is a combination of Zeus and Al Bundy. Omar storms through the play spewing mythic male energy, while his wife, Fifi (Beth Kennedy), plays a bustling Hera, scurrying to serve her husband.

Omar’s actor friend Austin (Matt Walker) is a classic Shanley character, finding love in the wrong place — Jill (Michi Broman), a fundraiser for the Battered Women’s Bowling League.

Austin rescues Jill from a singles bar where she has been unceremoniously picked up and slimed with Vaseline Petroleum Jelly by the abusive Gregory (Scott Atkinson), then takes her back to his apartment to play out one of the better bathtub scenes in the annals of theater.

The play crackles with strong Shanley dialogue; however, the writer has found a deeper context for the lines, as Omar vows to “rip the TV set out of my head” and Austin reflects that his credo is “Live and let live — nobody believes this but me.”

The play is challenging in its many levels and this company is certainly up to the challenge. Walker is outstanding as the unassuming searcher for truth, showing great skill and focus as he explores the many facets of his character with casual, truthful ease. Broman is delightful, bringing an edge and a comic sense of fun to her role.

Kelly is excellent, corralling the audience with a mixture of sympathy and anger. Kennedy plays the subservient but still powerful wife with careful conviction, and Atkinson does a wonderfully twisted turn as the manic abuser.

Aaron skillfully directs all elements of the piece, weaving the performances together into a cogent, captivating whole, at the same time finding the right accent for each emotional and intellectual beat. Set design by Ramsey Avery is excellent, as are costumes by Tamara Summers.

The Big Funk

(Zephyr Theatre, Hollywood; 94 seats; $ 15 top)

Production

The Los Angeles Theatre Project presents a dramatic comedy in two acts by John Patrick Shanley. Directed by Jules Aaron.

Creative

Set design, Ramsey Avery; costume design, Tamara Summers; lighting/sound, Bob Jacobsen. Opened, reviewed Jan. 16, 1994; runs through Feb. 20.

Cast

Jill ... Michi Broman Fifi ... Beth Kennedy Omar ... DK Kelly Austin ... Matt Walker Gregory ... Scott Atkinson

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