Thursday, September 8, 2016

Review: The Troubies and Getty Villa Throw a HAUNTED HOUSE PARTY

Beth Kennedy and Matt Walker in Haunted House Party
All photos by Craig Schwartz

Troubadour Theatre Company’s classless clowns of classical comedy go rogue in their latest adaptation at the Getty Villa. Taking generous liberties with the source material (Plautus’s Mostellaria) they reinvent the over-2000-year-old play as Haunted House Party, A Roman Comedy in their own unique style. Yes, it’s definitely “a comedy tonight.” 

Directed and adapted by head clown, Matt Walker, and accompanied by a band of mostly stalwart Troubie regulars, this one certainly contains the requisite tenets of Troubie playtime: classic musical numbers refashioned with story-specific lyrics, broad characters designed to spark an immediate (usually comic) response, large doses of improvised gags, multiple jabs at newsworthy figures, and a fair amount of circus whimsy on the side.

Coincidentally, early Roman theatre – with its farcical stories, stock characters, commedia dell’arte, and burlesque influences – is a perfect fit for these modern-day troubadours. The Romans borrowed heavily from the Greeks and since the Getty Villa’s performance space is patterned after the outdoor ancient Greek amphitheatres, the environment provides one more layer of stylish authenticity.

What this Troubie production adds, however, that isn’t quite as typical of their previous work, is an abundance of explicit humor, both verbal and visual, that makes the play an adults-only affair. Plan on a bawdy night out and you won’t be disappointed, but if you lack the fortitude for indelicate humor, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

L-R: Rick Batalla, Misty Cotton, Matt Walker, Matthew Patrick Davis,
Tyler King, Joey Keane, and Nicholas Cutro

The story is not unlike one you’d find today, but for its period details. A young man (Nicholas Cutro) parties the days away in excess while his father (Michael Faulkner) is out of town on business. Money complications occur when he spends a great deal of dad’s funds to free a slave girl (Joey Keane) he has fallen in love with, and then dad arrives home unexpectedly. Now it’s up to the young man’s slave (Matt Walker) to figure out how to make things right and give the audience its happy ending.

A dozen or so 70’s and 80’s hits like the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House,” Alex Call and Jim Keller’s “867-5309/Jenny” and R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” allow the Troubies plenty of room for Molly Booth’s suitably outrageous choreography.

The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” is reinvented to feature Beth Kennedy (hilarious) as a Mafioso banker, and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” becomes a call to arms for slave-girl, Karole Foreman. Kennedy also plays a slave in the show and is equally as funny, if not more so, in that guise. Fans of Rick Batalla’s off-kilter sense of humor will love what he does here and Joey Keane finally gets to do it in drag, and bubbles, and bikinis. You’ll just have to see it.

There is no fourth wall in this production and it’s raunchy from beginning to end. Gags won’t be revealed here but I will that say that no political candidate, ethnic group, or pop culture trend goes unscathed. Some of the jokes fall flat but when they do it’s usually funnier than when they land. Troubie regulars will find that latecomers still get the song, even at the Getty Villa, and Walker has his trusty yellow flag ready to call foul on tongue-tied actors, which to delight of the opening night audience happened more than once. It’s a true ensemble effort from beginning to low blow end.

Scenic designer Christopher Scott Murillo raises stories-high fabric panels behind the troupe’s travelling wagon centerpiece that acts as a beautiful canvas for JM Montecalvo’s colorful and tile-patterned lighting effects. Musical director Eric Heinly’s 4-piece band seems less comfortable than usual with its incidental music but makes up for it during full-fledged production numbers.

This comedy outing may not be for everybody but it is still bright and bold and packed with laughs that add an entirely new color – definitely blue – to the palette that is Troubie-land. 

L-R: Misty Cotton, Suzanne Jolie Narbonne, Joey Keane,
Leah Sprecher, and Karole Foreman

HAUNTED HOUSE PARTY, A Roman Comedy
September 9 – October 1, 2016 (8pm)
Getty Villa, co-produced by Troubadour Theater Company 
The Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater
17985 Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
Running time: Approximately 90 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: www.getty.edu/museum/programs
Not recommended for anyone under 12

L-R: Michael Faulkner and Matt Walker

L-R: Michael Faulkner, Rick Batalla, Leah Sprecher, Matt Walker, and Nicholas Cutro 

Beth Kennedy (center) with (L-R) Leah Sprecher, Misty Cotton,
Karole Foreman, Michael Faulkner, Matt Walker, Rick Batalla,
 Suzanne Jolie Narbonne, Nicholas Cutro, and Joey Keane


Matt Walker

Misty Cotton, Joey Keane, Nicholas Cutro, Matthew Patrick
Davis, and Leah Sprecher

The company of Haunted House Party

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