That’s Just Like Your Opinion, Man: RAW ONION REVIVAL (IRC) actors become their own critics

Cast of IRC's RAW ONION REVIVAL.

Cast of IRC’s RAW ONION REVIVAL.

It was a pleasure seeing Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium’s RAW ONION REVIVAL at the intimate L’Etage Cabaret. Rather than writing a regular review (impossible as there was nothing regular about the show—thank gawd), I thought: Why not let actors become theater critics—writing a review of their own performances?

Tina Brock, director of IRC, Philadelphia’s surreal theater, pointed out that all fifteen pieces had been written by different staff writers of the Onion, the satirical news publication. For readers who missed the RAW ONION REVIVAL, Phindie went all out to give you links to the wicked pieces that were performed on stage.

Every actor has experienced theater critics who got things a little wrong. Here’s their chance to peel their own onion.

Mark Knight: “Inconveniencing Others Makes Me Feel Alive”

​The Onion’s brand of finely honed satire is well respected and rightly so. Tina Brock and her theater company, the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium (IRC), has a strapline (“We Bring Good Nothingness to Life”) and a mission (“To bring classic absurdist theater to an international audience in the Philadelphia region. These rarely produced, renowned plays explore and illuminate human purpose and meaning, promoting reflection about the human condition in a contemporary world”). The Onion and the IRC are a perfect fit.

Now we come to Mark Knight, who has been around the Philadelphia theater scene for a while. This reviewer wonders, “Has Mr. Knight ever read an Onion piece before?” And does Mr. Knight’s lexicon contain the word “subtlety”? Instead of biting, absurdist satire, reflecting the human condition, Knight’s dandruffed, snorting buffoon was the broadest of broad comedy, looking for laughs via grossness and eliciting “ewww” from the dozens of IRC followers at L’Etage.

Granted, Knight got laughs. Granted, one woman nearly choked on an olive when Knight sent some cheap joke her way. But laughs, applause, and a roaring crowd of tipsy groundlings—is this what makes for a successful night of thoughtful humor and intellectually challenging theater? I think not.

Gil Johnson: “Unlock Your Employees’ Profit Potential With An Improv-Comedy Workshop!”

When Gil Johnson stepped onto the L’Etage stage Sunday night, I was initially disappointed that he was not Kristen Norine returning for an encore performance. After consoling myself with another gin and tonic, I quickly found myself asking: Why this piece? Why now? Why here? Why Gil Johnson?

The local actor, while not un-talented, nor un-brilliant, nor un-skilled, nor un-charismatic, nor un-beautiful, has little to recommend him to the Onion milieu.

What really troubled me was the particular choice of article. I can’t imagine Mr. Johnson did himself any favors, professionally, by putting that to a staged performance. I know personally many lovely, talented theatre professionals in Philadelphia who supplement their meager incomes by doing just this kind of work.

For Mr. Johnson to insult these craftsmen with his so-called comedy, left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, a taste which required six martinis to expunge. I found myself assaulted by his shrill barking of a series of questions: “What is your company’s most important asset?” he demanded of no one, or of us all? He wouldn’t stop pointing at people.

I walked over to the bartender, who must be devoting all his time to the fine craft of mixology—if my fourth White Russian was any indication. Superb. I smiled politely at Mr. Johnson, hoping for a comedic turn—a punchline, which never came.

Gil certainly had energy, hopping about like a hypoplastic kangaroo, but that hyperactive display diffused on the stage. It never reached me in the second row. I never felt moved to set down my Cosmopolitan and leap to my feet in joyful communion with the performance. Nor, I might observe, did any other member of the audience.

Mr. Johnson continued for an interminable five minutes, making improvisational games seem like boring, confusing slapstick in his ham-handed grip. A few times, Gil was able to force laughs from the audience’s mouths with a bit of specific mime, but mostly the room looked on in uncomfortable horror until Gil, apparently oblivious to our reaction, marched off the stage with his hands in the air, cheering his own aplomb. I ordered another scotch.

Andrew (“Drew”) Carroll: “I Bet I Can Speak Spanish”

In a delightfully refreshing turn of events, the young-ish Andrew Carroll tumbled out on stage, flouncing about in salmon shorts and argyle knee socks, clearly chosen to accentuate his legs (a laudable choice, as Andrew’s luscious gams account for a vast majority of his body). Lord only knows what his silly Spanglish piece was truly about, but Carroll’s signature flurry of dynamic energy and voice, loud enough to fill several stadiums (though perhaps a bit much for the tiny cabaret space, as evidenced by the bartender stuffing cocktail napkins in his ears) was thrilling as always. While watching Carroll work, I often feel that I’m watching a very intense Russian opera. While I may not understand it all the time, there is a beauty and musicality in the confusion that always keeps me coming back for more.

Tomas Dura: “Your Ignorance Of Classic Horror Leaves You Woefully Unqualified To Run This Haunted House”

I politely sat through Tomas Dura’s performance and had only two words to say after it was done:  “What the . . . .”  I mean he was clearly overly tanked up on Mountain Dew for one thing.  Also, Tomas, listen to me—it’s not Halloween anymore and it won’t be for a long time. Do you have nothing else to think of all year round except zombies, Frankenstein, and Dracula?

I have to admit, the script itself is a delightfully light-hearted, humorous piece of comedy, but, as I watched Tomas rant and rave, it didn’t take me long to realize, “Oh my God, he’s taking this seriously.”  Instead of playing up the comedy of placing extreme seriousness on something not serious at all (a dumb community haunted house), I suspect Tomas missed the point and truly believes that every dumb community haunted house in the world is actually the most serious thing in life. So he bared his soul, and I hate when actors do that.

There are some passages in the script which Tomas omitted from his performance, either because he felt that the average American wouldn’t be enough of a horror aficionado to be able to relate to the specific horror references or, more likely, he was counting on the Mountain Dew to make up for his lack of script memorization. However, in the last performance of the evening he added something that is not in the script at all: A sarcastic imitation of a pipe organ playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, complete with histrionic foot stamping and wing flapping.

For the love of God, Tomas, don’t you think you have to study a little more music before attempting such a difficult piece?

Kristen Norine: “Please, Make Yourself At Home While I Silently Count Down The Seconds Until You Leave”

Kicking off the second of three parts was Kristen Nor . . . wait, is her hair still blonde? I thought it was just for playing Lina in Misalliance. I mean, it looks good. I wasn’t sure that hair color was going to work on her, but she really pulls it off. And is her hair even shorter? I bet you ten bucks that at some point she completely shaves it off.

Hold on, this is ridiculous. Focusing solely on a woman’s appearance just solidifies the idea that the most important thing about her is her looks. Kristen is really giving it her all up there. I’m going to start paying atten . . . oh wait she’s done.

David Stanger: “That’s Not Funny; My Brother Died That Way”

Starting off our evening of absurdity was the ever stalwart (and IRC regular), David Stanger, who serves as both actor and co-director for the performance. Stanger’s piece, a darkly humorous telling of one man’s dealings with his brother’s grisly death via a horse’s posterior, struck an appropriately ridiculous chord to kick off the event.

Bourbon in hand, Stanger evokes just the right blend of Dennis Miller swagger and Nick Offerman deadpan to set the tone for a night filled with some of the most delightfully off-kilter oddballs you’ll ever have the pleasure (or revulsion) of meeting.

Jennifer Macmillan: “I’m An ENTJ, Destroyer Of Worlds”

At press time, Ms. MacMillan, whose star-turn as the Russian Perfectionist and Destroyer of Worlds in the IRC’s Onion had audiences in fearful stitches, was largely unavailable for comment. It’s widely known that Jenn (as she is known in her innermost circles) is typically terrifically over-committed. When approached for comment on her deliciously ridiculous performance, she essentially cracked, wailing,

“WHAT THE HELL MORE DO YOU PEOPLE WANT FROM ME?! IS IT NOT ENOUGH THAT I AM TEACHING A FINAL EXAM CLASS IN 20 MINUTES AFTER RACING FROM THE DENTISTS OFFICE, AND BEFORE WORKING A FRONT OF HOUSE SHIFT AT PTC FOR THEIR OPENING TONIGHT?! ISN’T THIS WHY I HAVE INTERNS?! WHERE THE HELL IS RANDI HICKEY?! WHY ISN’T SHE ON THIS FOR ME?! DEAR GOD, IT’S SO HARD TO FIND GOOD HELP!”

She wiped her tears, put on a pair of dark sunglasses, and poured herself a drink: “Actually, my dear, what I’d like to say is that I’m extremely humbled and flattered by your desire for comment.”

Jessica Foley: “What, No Coat?” by “A Coat”

I am no Brian Freedman (Philadelphia Weekly’s revered beverage columnist and restaurant critic), but I must take the young bartender of L’Etage Sunday evening to task: The four top-shelf white Russians, and six martinis you served me during Gil Johnson’s performance were not stiff enough to prepare me for Jessica Foley as Cabretta, “A Coat.” Is that what you call “top shelf”? Sir, I suggest you hire a carpenter to build a higher shelf.

Foley’s indulgent performance as the dashing John D’Alonzo’s Madea-esque winter coat left me praying, chanting, “Please, let Foley stop talking.”

Steve Lippe: “Owning A Cat Is A Great Way To Meet Women Who Magically Appear In Your Living Room”

Last Sunday’s Raw Onion, IRC’s sporadic laugh-fest, did not disappoint. Those attending the 6 and 8 pm shows were somewhat let down by the obstreperous and didactic “performance” of  Steve Lippe, playing a poor fellow who’s convinced that not only does he see beautiful women at his home, but that his recently adopted cat is instrumental in his conquest of said babes. Perhaps a more capable actor, or even an actual feline, could have sold this wild story to an otherwise perplexed audience. Although the Philly accent was an excellent choice, Lippe’s jerking, spasmodic attempt at getting laughs was as funny as a distemper shot.

Pat Roche: “My Hot Dog Cart Is Undermanned”

“Hot dog. Who wants a hot dog?” Mr. Roche wasn’t sure about his delivery, but I liked his voice—a little South Philly. And his apron and hat were pretty cool for the hot dog business!

Liam Castellan: “I Think That Stripper Really Liked Me”

The moments the audience responded to most were when Mr. Castellan got all romantic about this stripper who was obviously just hustling. They saw, pitied, and laughed at the little boy inside this guy who was just reading way too much into every word and gesture he got.

He referenced a woman in the audience with “not you, Sapphire” after generalizing about strippers’ habits with drugs and alcohol.

I believe he performed five Onion pieces atsix fundraisers for the IRC.The minimal rehearsal and laid-back atmosphere provides the best ratio of laughs per unit of effort.

Patricia Durante: “I Don’t Support Feminism If It Means Murdering All Men”

Patricia Durante performed a piece about being against feminism because it means slaughtering all men. Patricia puts one in mind of a younger Susan Sarandon, a cunning coincidence, since she is slated to play Queen Marguerite in the IRC’s upcoming EXIT THE KING, a role made bland by Sarandon in the recent Broadway production of said play.

I have no doubt that Patricia will match that blandness adequately. While Durante’s performance was obviously a palate cleanser after the belly laughs given to actors D’Alonzo and Stanger, she did manage to make this “lemon sorbet” between courses just tart enough.

Michelle Pauls: “Watch Me Sleep My Way To The Top Of The Glendale Homeowner’s Association”

Bursting through the seemingly staid stitches of her khaki pants and sweater set, Michelle Pauls, as Denise Broadhagen, blew out the pre-conceived notions of an upper-middle class suburbanite mother-cum-community powerhouse with the force of a rocket-launched garbage can.

Ms. Pauls tread the fine line between cinematic subtlety and dance hall histrionics with aplomb. Her Denise Broadhagen simmered like a pot of rice when the lid is popping up and down, barely containing her all consuming passion for community reform, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats, and prompting this critic to wonder, “How will she get Mrs. Hammiker to remove those awful ceramic gnomes?”

John D’Alonzo: “The Plumbing Business Is Not As Glamorous As The Porn Industry Depicts”

A critical Haiku review of the actor’s performance:

John, John D’Alonzo
As Porn Inspired Plumber
Don’t Quit Your Day Job

THE RAW ONION REVIVAL had three perfotmances at L’Etage Cabaret on May 3, 2015, to raise money for Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium’s Fringe Festival production of Exit the King by Eugene Ionesco. Donate here and visit idiopathicridiculopathyconsortium.org for more information.

 

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About the author

Henrik Eger

HENRIK EGER, editor of Drama Around the Globe. Bilingual playwright, author of Metronome Ticking. Born and raised in Germany. Ph.D. in English, University of Illinois, Chicago. German translator of Martin Luther King, Jr’s Nobel Peace Prize mail. Producer-director: Multilingual Shakespeare, London. Retired professor of English and Communication who taught in six countries on three continents, including four universities and one college in the U.S. Author of four college text books. Longtime Philadelphia theatre correspondent for AAJT, the world’s largest Jewish theatre website. Articles published in Classical Voice, Los Angeles; Kayhan International, Tehran, Iran; Indian Express, Mumbai, India; The Jewish Forward, New York; Philadelphia Jewish Voice, Phindie, and Broad Street Review, Philadelphia; The Mennonite, Tucson; and New Jersey Stage. Contact: HenrikEger@gmail.com