note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
Frequent MBTA riders never run short of unexpected experiences, whether it’s encountering bizarre characters, dealing with inexplicable delays, and even random acts of kindness. Remember the lady who wore her pet boa constrictor under her scarf? The wily reptile slithered off her neck and hid on the T, creating panic among riders for days, and a $650 cleanup bill for owner Melissa Moorhouse.
How about the riot squads and SWAT teams stationed in North Station to thwart pandemonium after championship games? Groups of celebratory, boisterous rowdies joined drunken riders, hapless commuters and homeless folks, lying and curling up on seats to find part-time shelter.
Then there's the broken escalators and urine-stenched elevators that factor into the MBTA reality equation. And let’s not forget the rider who tumbles onto the tracks, shutting down or delaying the system, which occurred last week on the Orange Oak Grove line. The scratchy, squawky PA system blared it was “due to a medical emergency”.
Don’t expect these weirder-than-fiction, real-life situations in ImprovBoston’s world premiere of John M. Manship’s musical comedy, “T: An MBTA Musical,” appearing at ImprovBoston in Cambridge. Although Manship and local composer-lyricist-musician Melissa Carubia claim the musical farce is based on some real-life situations, they wander off-track, plunging into absurdity and puerile toilet humor that twentysomethings enjoy but mature theatergoers find increasingly irritating and gauche.
The one-act, 90-minute play traces three strangers in their 20s, whose lives are derailed by the MBTA’s shortcomings. A disgruntled Alice, (portrayed by talented Emily Hecht), who says her life and her family’s are ruined by the T, encounters the personification of Charlie, strumming his guitar. As he soothes her with strains of “Over the Rainbow,” establishing a Boston-based “Wizard of Oz” theme, he furtively drops a secret treasure map into her bag, purported to conquer the evil T and unlock the key to happiness.
As Alice and her new friends, BU grad Michelle (likable Sarah Tupper) and BC grad John, (equally talented Patrick Parhiala) travel the T, they’re alerted to offstage public messages announcing delays and shut-downs. They also encounter obnoxious fellow riders, bewildered tourists and a lewd frat boy (Eric Rehm), and are pursued by a Wizard of Oz-type MBTA leader (Ray O’Hare) his keystone kops-type officers (Alex LeBaron, Deana Tolliver, Timothy Hoover) and a blustery bus driver (Lynn Wilcott). The cast is rounded out by the ensemble, portraying a myriad of stereotypical characters.
Aptly led by director Jeffrey Mosser, this exuberant cast of 17 races through the aisles, constantly making eye and, at times, physical contact with the audience,while bolstering their improvisational wackiness.
Although the plot is too hyperbolic, some of Manship and Carubia’s songs are melodic and clever. But Carubia, who excels on keyboard and accordion, accompanied by her fine fellow musicians, bassist John Fraley and drummer Jesse Tombari, can’t combat this play’s shortfalls.
Corny lines like “Your plan to destroy the T has come to a screeching halt,” and “We’ve reached the end of the line” at the end, don’t help, either. Give me a brake (break).....
BOX INFO: One-act, 90-minute musical comedy, written by John M. Manship, music, lyrics by Melissa Carubia, appearing with ImprovBoston through July 9, in Central Square, 40 Prospect St., Cambridge. Performances are Thursday at 8 p.m.; Friday, 10 p.m.; Saturday, 8,10 p.m. General admission, $16; students with ID cards, $12. Visit www.improvboston.com/showcase.