Sunday, May 11, 2014

Bathroom Humor, Blank Canvas Theatre

(David Turner and Ashley Conlon, praying to the porcelain god for a new script.)

Let’s face it, there’s something pretty funny about bathrooms, and what goes on in there. It’s the only socially approved place where our bodies can fully relax, and then expel a variety of waste products we don't need.

Speaking of waste products we don't need, let’s talk about Bathroom Humor, now at the Blank Canvas Theatre. First, a bit of context. I am a huge admirer of BCT and its gifted director and founder Patrick Ciamacco. In the last couple years, they have produced some productions equal in quality to any in the area. Second, I do not shrink from sexual or scatological subject matter, as long as it is accompanied by a modicum of wit or purpose.

And that is where this play, penned by Billy van Zandt and Jane Milmore hits the skid marks. Working on the pee-pee, poo-poo level of a four-year-old who finds any bodily functions hilarious just because they exist, this play is an exercise in bathroom tedium. Kind of like grunting over a particularly obstinate bowel movement and then having it get stuck.

The set up is that a company is having an employee party at a suburban home, and all the white-collar workers we meet are noxious in one way or another. Large and in-charge boss man Arthur (Luke Scattergood) is married to Laura (Ashley Conlon) who is hot to trot with the slim dude Sandy (David Turner). Overweight Peg (Jenna Messina) is mocked by her supposed gal pals Laura and Babette (Tamicka Scruggs), while Babette schemes to get it on with Arthur, and Peg’s diminutive dad (Len Lieber) tries haplessly to use the john.

See, there’s a bathroom in this casa, and all the above characters keep showing up in there to do their business, have sex and ransack the host’s medicine cabinet. This latter onslaught is led by Stu (Jeffrey Glover), a druggy mess who swallows, snorts and licks any substance he can find in hopes of copping a new high.

It’s a door slamming farce with just one door, so a shower curtain and a window are used for various other entrances and exits. Are there laughs? Absolutely. We are human beings and that four-year-old still lives within us, giggling at fart jokes and gasping when a person drops their underwear and sits on a toilet (a key part of the set) in front of us. Then, there are all the fat girl jokes, the gay jokes, and so on.

Sadly, the ability to trigger laughter from these supposedly delicate subjects does not a play make. Even when the playwrights shoehorn a hired, morose Elvis impersonator (Steven Schuerger) into the festivities, and he hooks up with lonely Peg, this reach for some heart amongst the silliness just feels cheap and manipulative.

Indeed, the play would be more interesting if it truly had the courage of its convictions and really went totally full frontal with the bathroom jokes. But that would require a level of writing skill of which these playwrights can only dream.

Ciamacco is one of the most gifted theater honchos in the area, and up to now his choices for plays have been unconventional and interesting. Hey, everyone’s entitled to crap out now and then. And this one, despite the laughs it generates, is an aimless turd floating in the otherwise glittering BCT pool.

Bathroom Humor
Through May 24 at Blank Canvas Theatre, 78th Street Studio, W. 78th Street, 440-941-0458.

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