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Nikki Fagin belts out a song in Taboo (photo courtesy of Shadowbox Live)

Nikki Fagin belts out a song in Taboo (photo courtesy of Shadowbox Live)

By Richard Ades

Appropriately titled Taboo, Shadowbox Live’s latest theme show is designed to raise people’s hackles. So it’s not surprising that one of its skits raised mine.

In Waiting for Paradise, Stacie Boord plays a Presbyterian who runs into a Catholic (Tom Cardinal) in heaven’s “waiting room” and insinuates that she’s more deserving of salvation because she’s a “true” Christian. Having been raised as a Presbyterian, I can tell you that’s very unlikely to happen. Presbyterians subscribe to the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, which means they can take little credit for anything that happens to them. So how can they feel qualified to lord it over anyone?

But what really irks me is that Boord’s character is mislabeled to begin with. The Catholic insults her by charging that the only things Presbyterians need for baptism are a swimming pool and a pocket Bible. Wrong! You show me a Presbyterian who was baptized in a pool, and I’ll show you a Baptist.

Obviously, Shadowbox is confusing Presbyterians with another brand of Protestants who are all too often known for their “my way or the hell way” attitude.

This denominational error notwithstanding, Waiting for Paradise does make a valid point about religious intolerance. It just makes it a little too bluntly to be really funny. But that’s OK, because there are other skits here that are really funny.

One of the wittiest is Good Driver Discount, in which an attempt to diversify a commercial for car insurance keeps running into cultural stereotypes. Show a black guy eating at the wheel? Fine, but can we find him something to eat besides a bucket of fried chicken? And let’s not, by any means, suggest that Asian women are prone to accidents.

Also hilarious is Face to Facebook, though I hesitate to say why for fear of offending my Facebook friends. Suffice it to say that its targets include anti-Obama ranters, PC-minded carpers and parents who think every image of their newborn is deserving of Web-wide attention.

Several other skits are at least worthy of an appreciate chuckle. An example is Coming Out & Going Home, about a college student (Jimmy Mak) who has a potentially shocking announcement to make to his backwoods parents (Robbie Nance and Boord). The bit builds to a clever twist before petering off in a formulaic way.

The scattered video segments are similarly edgy, including Too Taboo, in which JT Walker III unwittingly reveals his encyclopedic knowledge of kinky sexual practices.

As for the songs, they’re both complementary and fun. Highlights include Don’t Stand So Close to Me (sung by Stephanie Shull), Face Down in the Dirt (sung by Boord) and Let’s Go Get Stoned (delivered by a soulful and bluesy Walker).

Starting it all off in an amusingly outrageous manner—if you’re lucky enough to attend one of the performances where he appears—is a standup routine by comedian Justin Golak. His act reaches its envelope-pushing zenith with a joke about Hitler, Beethoven and the Right to Life movement.

Many Shadowbox shows seem to be variations on each other. Taboo takes off in a whole new direction and makes the most of the virgin territory.

Taboo continues through June 8 at Shadowbox Live, 503 S. Front St. Show times are 7:30 and 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Running time: 2 hours (including intermission). Tickets are $30, $20 for students and seniors. 614-416-7625 or shadowboxlive.org.

Watch out for that banana peel!

If you paid attention to the Columbus theater scene in the 1990s, you were familiar with Red Herring. Michael Herring’s troupe was responsible for some of the decade’s more offbeat offerings.

The company closed down soon after the turn of the millennium, and Herring left town in 2003. But now the actor/director appears ready to bring Red Herring back with the help of former collaborator John Dranschak.

The first glimpse of its rebirth is Krapp’s Last Tape, a semi-autobiographical one-man play by Samuel Beckett. Dranschak directs and Herring stars, appearing onstage for the first time since the early aughts.

His performance won’t surprise the average Red Herring alum. Playing a 69-year-old writer who revisits his youth with the help of boxes full of reel-to-reel audiotapes, Herring is physically precise and dramatically understated.

Long moments are spent shuffling back and forth between the tape recorder and the closet where Krapp stores his tapes—and his alcohol. An early gag involving a banana peel unfolds so slowly that you anticipate the payoff minutes before it actually happens.

Herring’s performance is impressive in its self-control, but some will find it too deliberate and repressed to be dramatically stimulating. Longtime theater fans will find it exciting in another way, though. Given what Herring and his troupe once meant to Columbus, seeing him onstage in 2013 is like watching a piece of history come back to life.

With any luck, that piece of history will morph into a harbinger of theater yet to come.

Red Herring Productions will present Krapp’s Last Tape at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday (April 4-6) at MadLab Theatre, 227 N. Third St. Running time: 50 minutes. Tickets: $20 in advance, pay what you want at the door. 614-723-1996 or redherring.info.

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