Reviewed by Dale Reynolds
Through September 16th, 2012, at the Avery Schreiber Theatre, 11050 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91601
God knows the religious and historic epic films before our time, many directed by Cecil B. DeMille, were campy to the Nth degree, with their hypocritical Christian pieties amid the excesses of pagan fun. Lots of semi-nudity, lions, slave-drivers, pharaohs, hand-maidens, etc., etc., etc. Entertaining for their day; dreary for today’s more hip and ironic audiences.
So when Larry Coen and David Crane wrote their 1986 off-Broadway comedy, Epic Proportions, (its three-month1999 Broadway run was at the Helen Hayes Theatre), they concocted a courageously silly satire on 1930s epics, set in the Arizona desert during the Great Depression, getting at the goofy heart of how these films were made, quite often at the expense of the “little people” – extras and techies.
Set in the middle of The Great Depression, we meet Benny (Michael Miranda), who is so desperate to be an actor he has left his family’s farm to be “atmosphere” on a new biblical epic by the famous director, D.W. DeWitt (David St. James). But Benny’s brother, Phil (Anthony Marquez), come to save him from this depravity, joins up once he hears “a dollar a day” to wear an Egyptian “skirt.” Eventually both young men fall in love with Louise Goldman (understudy Anna Quirino-Miranda), who is the real director of the extras, proving her mettle by dividing them into four categories to be slaves, dancing girls, guards, and pyramid builders, much to Benny’s displeasure. The lads’ fortunes rise, fall and rise again as the nuttiness around them spreads.
This plot is not much more ludicrous than the invented ones from the ‘20s through the ‘50s. Now, Hollywood was never as screwballish (venal, yes) as this invention, but Coen and Crane’s silliness is enjoyable and the actors are up for the goofiness. Well-staged by director Joe Ochman, it does appear he has a tin-ear on the difference between divine subtlety and hellish loudness – the reasons why most of us graduate from the uncivilized raucousness of The Three Stooges to the sublime humor of Laurel and Hardy as we age. Ochman has them mostly shouting into a 50-seat theatre, being a broad as possible to hurl the humor at us and not trusting – as does actor Marquez, for instance – that allowing breathing room in the fast-paced plot will give the audience time to figure out what’s “real,” and therefore funnier, than what needs to be “explained,” undermining the willing suspension of disbelief for us.
All that aside, much of the evening is funny (so, thanks to the director, as well as the fine casting) on a truly wonderful set (designed by Michael Hoffman) and the superb and colorful costumes (uncredited). In spite of the unnecessary over-the-topness, the cast prove to be good actors: Steven J. Palmer, understudy Paul McKinney, Karim Léon, Marina Palmier, Marquez, Miranda, St. James and Quirino-Miranda each exhibit acting-strengths that will improve as they quiet down. But, hey, don’t take my word for it – go see it for yourself. It’s a silly but entertaining evening.
For tickets and more information, call (323) 364-2670 or visit, http://www.NeoEnsembleTheatre.org
Senior Arts Critic