This weekend, Viv and I went to a free production of the play Red Noses in a nearby park. It’s running through the end of the month at the Miller Community Center on 19th, just over the hill from Safeway on 15th.
The play garnered a lukewarm review in the P-I recently, and I have to concur in the judgement that the production was uneven. I’d say it was still a decent summer night in the park – I saw bats! It was a big cast – about twenty – and the outdoor setting was less than ideal, planes overhead drowning out dialog more than once.
The play is about a religious order that formed in France during an outbreak of the plague, advocating holy clowning as a spiritual balm; it’s also a pretty cynical, anti-clerical play (perhaps anti-church is a more accurate phrase). its’ depiction of the Pope, in particular, as a cynical lord of the age, is a central narrative feature.
The actress portraying the Pope (Lisa SanPhillippo) steps beyond the part as written to present a vision of the Pontiff of Avignon as a kind of bug-eyed Ralph Steadman caricature, hideously hilarious, brutally over the top. I suspect that her performance is close to the spirit that the company hoped to execute the play in.
Unfortunately, timing is the essence of comedy, and I rather expect that the sheer volume of the play undermined the possibility of refining the timing of the bits, such as they are in the play. Rebecca Davis, as Father Flote (the founder of the order) is effective and held my attention – but her perfomance lacked bite or menace, which undermines the base concept of clowning to hold death at bay.
I must note that the tipping factor in leading us to see the play was my awareness that a very funny man of known and merciless wit who spends his days engaged (however self-deprecatingly) in a battle against a hideous disease was playing a significant role in the production. His wit leads me to impute a certain persuasiveness to him, and thus I rather wonder if he played a role in the selection of this play.