The problem starts with the title. Eric Simonson and Jeffrey Hatcher call their new comedy, world-premiering at City Theatre, Louder, Faster. The problem is that this clichéd theatrical exhortation in its entirety is actually "Louder, faster, funnier." Indeed, "funnier" is the whole point -- don't overanalyze comedy, just make it louder and faster and it will be funnier.
So going in, I wondered, "Whither the 'funnier'?"
Coming out, I understood: They didn't want to be sued for false advertising.
The show purports to be a comedy supposing that George S. Kaufman, the undisputed king of Broadway comedy in the 1920s and '30s, returns to his hometown of Pittsburgh to cure a case of writer's block. Once here, he finds himself in a madcap series of farcical events with loopy people doing crazy things, and the curtain comes down to much laughter and applause.
But Louder, Faster is as funny as a death rattle.
It's got a plot which makes sense only if everyone in it, and everyone watching it, has had a lobotomy. The characters are little more than piles of characteristics, and if there was an attempt to put the zeitgeist of 1937 on stage, it passed me right by.
I can't actually describe the mirthless parade passing in front of my eyes, but I can tell you two of the "jokes" that I -- unfortunately – remember:
Betty, a secretary, has a conversation with a prostitute whose name is ... wait for it ... Veronica! No really, that's one of the jokes. Here's another: Two characters of undetermined Eastern European background have a conversation on stage in their native "language," and one says to the other: "Abu dabu Uta Hagen Jar Jar Binks."
Laugh? I thought I'd pee my pants!
All things considered, I can well understand the mechanical feel to this production directed by Tracy Brigden; I mean, what else could she do with it? For a brief while, Mariana Squerciati, as Betty, generates some laughs, but even her desperate quirkiness pales. Brian Sgambati, as George, spends most of this evening hiding behind his FM announcer voice and staring off into the middle distance as if looking for a reason to go on. The entire evening feels forced, lifeless and artificial, and the actors are more to be pitied than blamed.
If this review seems unduly harsh, it's not just because Simonson and Hatcher have besmirched Kaufman himself by sticking him in this dirgefest. They have, in their own words, written the show "as the kind of play Kaufman ... perfected in mid-20th-century America." If these men honestly believe that the co-writer of Once in a Lifetime, Stage Door, Butter & Egg Man, Dinner at Eight and The Man Who Came to Dinner (to name just a very few) would ever have come up with something like this ... then I suggest they re-read a few of the plays just mentioned.
This play was commissioned by City Theatre. I would love to have been there the day the final script was dropped off to Brigden. On second thought, maybe not. I like Brigden too much to want to see her cry.
Louder, Faster continues through May 29. City Theatre, 1300 Bingham St., South Side. 412-431-2489 or www.citytheatrecompany.org