The festival was opened by The Ministry of Cultural Warfare, the company that produced my favorite show of last year’s Fringe, The Tyranny of God’s Love. [CAVEAT: I know most of the people who were working on this show.]
Verdict? Polished, and extremely entertaining, in particular the first piece (“A Rain of Seagulls”). This is a script that could easily have sunk underneath the weight of its own cleverness if it wasn’t ably abetted by a cast who both got the joke and had the skill to pull it off. In fact — in its easy shifting between ponderous statements and nonensical stream-of-consciousness, its blending of excessively intense delivery with occasional slapstick — stylistically, this so closely resembles another famous Chekhov parody — Woody Allen’s Love and Death — that I’d be surprised to learn that it wasn’t a conscious reference.
If it has a weakness, it’s that it tends to wear out its welcome — it’s one joke, and it’s a very funny joke, but I tire of it quickly.
A similar set of strengths and weaknesses characterizes the second act (“Our Vanya, Ourselves”), a mash-up of “Uncle Vanya” with an episode of “The Golden Girls.” You’ve now heard the one joke of that particular show — and for the first ten minutes, it’s hilarious! Fortunately, it doesn’t last long enough to become unpleasant to sit through, but the laughter fades after a while. After all, just how long can a premise like that be sustained?
In fact, so similar are the two shows in this respect that I wonder if I wouldn’t have felt more charitable towards both of them if they hadn’t been stapled together — one grows weary of empty cleverness, no matter how well-done. But it’s very well-done here, and I wonder if it wouldn’t be enjoyed more by someone without hostility towards the source material.
Glancing at the above, it looks like I really disliked the show — not so. It’s a solid two-act farce, and I was laughing pretty much non-stop from beginning to end. Both the writing and casting are superb, and it’s top-notch comedy. My only real criticism is that there wasn’t much there — it couldn’t have gone on much longer than it did, and I was ready for it to be over when it was. Hardly a damning observation.