Comedy is hard to make come alive on a stage, and the comedy of Woody Allen can be especially difficult. You can’t pigeonhole the man who many believe, as do I, is a genius filmmaker.
He is widely praised for his films, he is a curiosity for his sometimes bizarre personal life and he is a test for anyone to either reanalyze or make come alive.
And it has proved very difficult for the cast at Soulstice Theatre to get a handle on Allen’s play "God," which opened Friday night.
This may well be a very funny play, somewhere. But the one I saw Friday night left me almost totally without so much as a grin, much less an outright laugh.
The story of this play is odd. Two ancient Greeks – Hepatitis, a playwright, and Diabetes, an actor – are searching for an ending to a play that is going to be in a contest.
From there, the play wanders through an unconnected series of scenes and events. This is a very complex play, difficult to understand and hard to appreciate. Some people think it’s Allen’s take on the big questions of life, including the meaning of God.
A play like this needs precision from a director and from the cast. That precision was significantly missing Friday night.
The play was dotted with references to Milwaukee, with things like Cudahy, St. Francis, Ma Fischer’s, Jo-Cat’s and Wisconsin Avenue drizzled throughout the production, an obvious attempt to rip laughs out of an audience. To me, they were cheap and sophomoric.
Stephanie Graham, making her directorial debut with this play, got virtually no help from the cast.
The two main characters, Hepatitis played by Tim Kietzman and Diabetes, played by Joe Dolan, gave new meaning to the word "overacting."
Both of them monopolized the early part of this play, and the main thing that struck me was how unconnected to anything their arms were. Both men were guilty.
No matter what the script had them say, no matter where they were standing, every line seemed to be accompanied by two arms, stretched out to the side, palms up. No matter what else was going on. It was almost as if their arms had a life of their own, independent of anything else.
While Kietzman and Dolan set a low bar, the rest of the cast was unable to climb over it. From a totally incredulous Jewish girl from West Allis, played by Liz Getschow, to a manic Trichinosis played by Max Williamson, the entire cast seemed like a parade of cardboard cutouts.
Any good comedy demands several things. But among those things, perhaps the most important of all, is that the actors have to flesh out the characters who we have some visceral reaction to them. We have to feel something.
Allen’s play, now almost 40 years old, was written and is most often performed as a one-act. Friday night, for some reason, it was split in two with a 15 minute intermission. That was the bad news. The good news is that everyone came back after the intermission.
Soulstice is capable of putting on seriously good plays. "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" was a marvelously funny and touching play. "The Memory of Water" was well worth the trip to the theater as well.
But this play missed the mark by a mile. Perhaps a part of the problem is the play itself. To say that Allen wrote a murky story is an understatement.
But it’s not an impossible play. It’s been done over the past 40 years, and if you read reviews, it’s been done well.
Midway through the first act, an actor sitting as an audience member, stands up, calling the play "stupid" and he runs out of the theater.
He may well have been the wisest man in the place.
"God" runs Jan. 24 through Feb. 8 at Soulstice Theatre. For more information on tickets, go to their website.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published Sept. 1, 2015
Bob McGinn and Jason Wilde are the two most knowledgable reporters ever to cover the Green Bay Packers. If you want to know about this team, read or listen to them and avoid the silver tongued radio heads.
Published Aug. 27, 2015
With Donald Trump monopolizing the airwaves with his amazing campaign, it's important to recognize that our very own governor is also in this race. It is also important to note that there are significant differences between these two candidates.
Published Aug. 25, 2015
The 2015-16 theater season in Milwaukee is just underway and looking ahead there is promise of outstanding productions that will stimulate audiences to laugh, think and weep.It's an appropriate time to look back at the 2014-15 season that provided so much interesting theater. Milwaukee is fortunate to have so many theater companies, both old favorites and new and bold groups. We have a wealth of great theater that is abundant for a city our size.
Published Aug. 25, 2015
The injury to Jordy Nelson of the Green Bay Packers, as well as other injuries to players on other NFL teams in the last couple of weeks, is a blow to the teams as they approach the regular season.They also point to the continuing folly of having four preseason games, a relic of the past that serves no purpose other than to provide additional revenue to owners of teams in the most popular and highest revenue sport in the country.
Published Aug. 20, 2015
No less an authority than the United States Department of Justice has cracked open the door to allowing tribes, which are sovereign states, to grow marijuana on their reservations. Could this mean more revenue for Wisconsin tribes?
Published Aug. 16, 2015
Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Edward Albee has theory of evolution, if not about the existence of man, at least about the way one man lives and gets along with another. "Seascape," the third Pulitzer play Albee wrote, opened at American Players Theatre in Spring Green over the weekend and like his other great works, it looks at the evolution of relationships with an unerring eye and sensibility.
Published Aug. 15, 2015
There's this guy, see, and he lives in a hot apartment in Paris and he's got these three ladies, all of whom think he's going to marry them and they drop in and out of his place and he keeps track of all this dropping in and out by using the timetables of the airlines that the three ladies work for.
Published Aug. 14, 2015
Scott Walker is in danger of dropping off the radar screen unless someone lights a fire under him and gives him an injection of passion. He can learn a lot from the world of the theater, things that might actually make him seem like someone who cares.
Published Aug. 14, 2015
Angela Iannone, one of the finest actors ever to grace a stage in Milwaukee, has been engaged in a love affair for the past six years with a man who died when he was only 59 years old.Not only that, but the man died in June of 1893. Edwin Booth was his name, the finest actor of his time, the brother of the man who killed Abraham Lincoln and the object of desire for Iannone who has crafted a series of play about this lover.
Published Aug. 11, 2015
The PGA tournament, the final major of the golf season, gets underway this week at the beautiful Whistling Straits near Sheboygan. It's a great tournament, a great site and a wonderful chance for thousands and thousands of spectators to see the world's best golfers up close and personal. So here's a series of do's and don'ts if you are planning to go to Whistling Straits.