Justin Tanner’s latest uproarious yet overly scatological comedy
finally reaches the breaking point of how much an audience can
withstand in an under-100-seat theater. The talented writer of “Pot
Mom” and “Wife Swappers,” usually so adept at self-referential humor
and fearlessness of subject matter, has painted himself into a corner
The debut production by Third Stage Company at Third Stage in
Burbank, this sporadically hilarious satire follows a cursed company
attempting to stage a send-up of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic
“Oklahoma!” The all-too-knowing satire of the Los Angeles theater
scene gradually drowns in its own self-satisfaction and eventually
wears the audience down with its sheer pointlessness.
That’s not to say there aren’t some serious belly laughs along the
way. Tanner has a way of making even the most obscene subject funny,
but his story of a frayed ensemble of washed up TV stars, coke heads,
and luckless veterans veers far too close to reality to be considered
The threadbare plot centers on playwright Arthur (Brian Newkirk)
and his struggle to get “Oklahomo!” off the ground in the face of
unbelievably bad luck.
The majority of the suffering stems from his choice for director,
his megalomaniacal ex-boyfriend Darren. Every time Arthur and his
crew get berated or insulted so mercilessly by Darren, the action
comes to a complete halt. Ironically, Tanner himself is to blame --
he plays Darren. His acting just doesn’t mesh with the rest of the
cast, and the light goes out in their eyes every time he steps on
Strangely enough, in a play chiefly concerned with gay men and
their anatomy, the women of the cast give the best performances and
surely provide most of those belly laughs. The perpetually spunky
Maile Flanagan is once again spot-on as a born-again stage manager
who just wants to be loved, even by a company of sinners.
Ellen Ratner is believably vain playing a TV star slumming it as a
favor, but needing the affirmation all the same. And Mary Scheer is
so good as the coked-out musical director, one wishes the show
centered around her. Her breakdown midway through the play makes up
for a lot of the stuff that doesn’t work.
But the subversive glee with which Tanner skewered religion and
family values in “Wife Swappers” has given way to heavy-handed bile
thrust out of characters’ mouths with no soul inside.
The joy of peeking in on the sillier aspects of the beliefs on
both sides of an issue has been replaced with increasingly unfunny
diatribes and graphic talk just for the shock value. There’s a fine
line between George Carlin and Andrew Dice Clay.
Nearly rescued by its abundant one-liners and insider jokes (a
reference to the bathrooms at Third Stage being backstage is
priceless), “Oklahomo!” would have benefited from even the smallest
bit of meaning or just better pacing by director Lisa James. Shows
about nothing can be entertaining, but the nothing here isn’t
anything but endless confrontation with little relief. The feeling of
stress that one is left with could easily be had simply by
volunteering at any local theater.
WHAT: “Oklahomo!” by Justin Tanner
WHERE: Third Stage, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays until Aug. 20
TICKETS: $18, $13 for students, seniors, and 4-A union members
CONTACT: (818) 842-4755
* JAMES PETRILLO is an actor and screenwriter from Glendale.