This production is the maiden effort from the
Sacred Fools Theater Company, and it is by no means a timid one. Using elements of
"Alice in Wonderland" and puppet theater such as "Punch and Judy" to
retell the tale of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's downfall, the production, complete
with music and dance numbers, demands your attention. It also, unfortunately, never quite
rewards that attention with a strong, cohesive plotline.
Using allegorical characters from the
aforementioned works, the play attempts to tell the story of Virginia Rappe, a starlet who
dies after being allegedly assaulted by Arbuckle during a weekend spree in San Francisco.
Arbuckle was tried for her death and, after four trials, eventually was acquitted. By that
point, however, his career was in ruin and he never completely recovered, dying a few
years later. Several books have researched the entire case to a fare-thee-well, with none
of the players coming out completely clean. It has been largely surmised, however, that
Ms. Rappe was far from the innocent she claimed to be, and Arbuckle was, more than
anything else, a victim of his own poor judgment with regard to party planning.
In this effort, however, Rappe is painted as
downright virginal, while Arbuckle is demonized to an alarming extent. The two are played
by Pierre Fromage and Piper Henry, both of whom put across convincing and heartfelt
performances despite the one-dimensional level of their characters. Actually, everyone on
stage does the same, investing themselves completely in their portrayals. Shelley Wenk
does a very nice turn as the Queen, prowling and chewing up scenery in grand style. Phil
LaMarr and Dan Etheridge are comical and appropriately whacky as Tweedledum and
Tweedledee, as are Kelly Hawthorne and Adam Bitterman as the March Hare and the Mad Hatter
(in this instance, representing silent stars on the fade). Ben Currier, Alix Goodwin,
David P. Moore, Martin Yu and Alan Reynolds are wildly over the top, and funnily so, and
the various puppet characters in the "Punch and Judy" segments, while Shana
Susman, Danielle Surrette and Tara Beth Connolly have a lot of fun as flapper/ dancer
gals. Andreas Olavarria as the Crooner and Sharon MacMenamin as the Script Girl also are
interesting, in that they take small parts and make them memorable. It's a big cast on a
small stage, and John Sylvain deserves much credit for keeping everyone moving at a
frenetic but controlled pace throughout. Ditto musical director Jonathan Goldstein, who
along with his band (Joel Zighelboim, Jonathan Dyke, Gene Lushtak, and Ben Currier) kept
the music bright and lively throughout, even making the darker numbers trot along
appropriately. Jason Bloom's lighting design is very effective, particularly when evoking
the eerier moments of the production. Set design and costumes also work throughout. Chris
Jeffries, who wrote the entire shebang, has tackled a personage and time period with verve
and gusto, succeeding sporadically.
The Alice concept works better than the Punch one, and
interchanging the two throughout often is confusing, particularly for audience members who
don't know the full story and didn't have time to read the rather lengthy program notes.
And the attempt to link Alice (Virginia Rappe) to the Virginia of "Yes, Virginia,
There Is A Santa Claus" really perplexes more than it compares "the suffering of
all Virginias." The writing is solid, however, especially in the songs, most notably
the Queen's homage to the lusty Hollywood. All said and done, there's an interesting
concept to be found here, but it requires more digging than it should. If nothing else,
however, the show's an interesting mix of music and theater that isn't often done, and
deserves recognition for that feat.