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The Cockroach That Ate Cincinnati

This enigmatic, comic filmed monologue rests on the considerable, if offbeat, charisma of vet playwright Alan Williams, who condensed the script from his successful series of one-person shows known as "The Cockroach Trilogy."

This enigmatic, comic filmed monologue rests on the considerable, if offbeat, charisma of vet playwright Alan Williams, who condensed the script from his successful series of one-person shows known as “The Cockroach Trilogy.”

The pic could click with savvy downtown types. Problem is how to pull them into the arthouse: Knowledge of its legit origins will ruin surprise, while ignorance of them makes pic hard to describe.

For the first 15 minutes or so of this plain-looking, low-budget pic which follow an earnest filmmaking couple in search of a likely docu subject non-initiates may wonder if it’s ever going to settle down.

But people who’ve seen the one-man plays, which toured the U.K. and Canada for more than a decade, will guess that the rambling tale eventually turns into a manic rant for the bearded, hot-eyed writer and comic, who’s now a mainstay of Toronto’s theater scene.

The pic set in rusty Windsor, Ontario, for extra grit moves inexorably into the author’s eclectically sardonic worldview. To him, virtually everything is “crap,” except for certain kinds of music and some odd, obsessive memories of the late ’60s in Britain.

Williams doubles as actor, playing a character known only as “The Captain” (after a particularly lame superhero he invented in childhood); he spins convoluted, highly detailed stories that almost always connect with other tales, no matter how abstruse.

“The Cockroach That Ate Cincinnati” eventually spoofs the Spalding Gray school of performance art by sitting its star at a desk, complete with lamp and lame slides. He chafes noisily, and hilariously, at this confinement, eventually breaking free for some confidential asides to the roving camera.

Helmer Michael McNamara, best known for his Holly Cole and Jane Siberry tube specials, mixes different film stocks to entertaining effect, and even manages to incorporate some commentary on the difficulties of transferring oral art to the bigscreen (the Captain has a stack of videotaped “ideas,” even though he owns no TV).

There’s even a nice payoff for the main character that never would have worked onstage.

Kurt Swinghammer’s hip music is a definite plus.

By the way, script mentions no insects, nor any cities in Ohio.

The Cockroach That Ate Cincinnati


Production: A Queen West Prods. (Toronto) production. Produced by Michael McNamara. Co-producers, Judy Holm, James Weyman. Directed, edited by Michael McNamara. Screenplay by Alan Williams, based on his plays "The Cockroach Trilogy."

Crew: Camera, Patrick Lobzun; music, Kurt Swinghammer; production design, Christopher McNamara; sound, John Koester, John Thomson; Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 7, 1996. (Also in Vancouver fest.) Running time: 97 MIN.

With: With: Alan Williams, Deborah Drakeford, Oliver Dennis.

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