Despite excellent set and violence design, world-premiere farce not quite there
|First Floor Theater presents|
|Deer and the Lovers|
Review by Lauren Whalen
Farce is hard to do well: it’s a strange balance of comedy and satire that often falls flat. Sadly, this is the case with First Floor Theater’s world premiere of Emily Zemba’s Deer and the Lovers. What tries to be a wacky portrayal of love with a healthy dose of blood is instead a poorly-acted mess, albeit a poorly-acted mess with one standout performance and an excellent set. The issue with world premieres is that sometimes they’re not quite ready for the general audience. Deer and the Lovers solidly, squarely falls into this category.
The play begins with the titular lovers, bland white guy Peter (Alex Stage) and simpering Qiana (Shadee Vossoughi) gearing up for a romantic weekend at Qiana’s parents’ New Hampshire cabin. Their lust is quickly extinguished, however, with the discovery of a dead deer – who apparently fell through the window from the inside of the house. The plot thickens with the surprise appearance of Peter’s loud and brash sister Marnie (Kay Kron) and her clueless husband Felix (Tony Santiago). Marnie and Felix’s marriage is on the rocks, and both are carrying large, life-changing secrets. The play quickly devolves into yelling, making out on coffee tables, the entrance of a dumb yet enigmatic animal control officer (Matt Nikkila) and a literal groundbreaking.
Director Jesse Roth has an impressive bio that includes assistant-directing several productions at The House Theatre. Unfortunately she doesn’t seem to be as adept at the helm of her own show, often dragging out the action and insufficiently coaching her actors. Deer and the Lovers’ copious flaws can be traced back to both Roth’s lackadaisical direction (though Amanda Fink’s violence design is admittedly impressive) and Zemba’s scattershot writing. The characters scream at one another much too often, and are annoyingly one-note even considering the genre. The majority of the jokes fall flat, the lovers display no palpable chemistry and no one seems to have any real motivation for anything.
With one notable exception, the cast either seem to be phoning it in or are way out of their depth. A prime example for the latter is Vossoughi: though her not-so-lovable ditz of a character is poorly written, the actress isn’t able to sustain a moment and doesn’t have a sense of timing. I recently noticed a similar issue in Chagrin Falls (also currently playing at the Den): sometimes, I’ve noticed that at times performers who are well-versed in improv don’t have the skill set for a longer theater piece. This isn’t to condemn improv (an impressive ability in and of itself), but strength in that area doesn’t necessarily translate to other genres, even comedy or farce. Only Kron fully commits to her performance, and her over-the-top, oversized sunglasses-sporting Marnie is pure trashy fun. The only other bright spot is Eleanor Kahn’s set, which displays a similar all-in philosophy, with a brilliant effect at the end of act one.
Perhaps with rewrites and tighter direction, Deer and the Lovers could be a fun night of escapism. Instead, it’s sophomoric and overly silly, with the distinct air of being the only one in on the joke. Good comedy is ideal right now, but Deer and the Lovers doesn’t even come close.
Deer and the Lovers continues through December 3rd at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm. Additional showings November 14, 28 and 30. Tickets are $10-$20, and are available by phone (773-697-3830) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at FirstFloorTheater.com. (Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Ian McLaren
behind the scenes
Jesse Roth (director), Eleanor Kahn (scenic design), Eric Watkins (lighting design), Karli Blalock (sound design), Cassandra Bowers (costume design), Emily Breyer (puppet design), Amanda Fink (violence design), Claire Stone (gore design), Sophie Blumberg (dramaturg), Alex Madda (assistant director), Julie Leghorn (stage manager), Markie Gray (production manager), Amanda Cantlin, Sarah Collogne (assistant lighting, master electricians), Bobby Huggins (technical director), Ian McLaren (photographer)