Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Epic Proportions"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Carl A. Rossi


"EPIC PROPORTIONS"

by Larry Coen and David Crane

directed by Davis Robinson

Louise … Laura Given Napoli
Benny; Waving Extra … Christopher Robin Cook
Phil; Executioner … Terrence O’Malley

with

Conspirator #1; Jack; Roman General; Slave; Reveling Egyptian Nobleman; Guard; Brady; Mr. DeWitt; Gladiator … Richard Snee
Conspirator #2; Shel; Waving Extra; Slave; Reveling Egyptian Nobleman; Guard; Gladiator … Neil A. Casey
Conspirator #3; Waving Extra; Dancing Girl; Queen; Cochette … Maureen Keiller
Octavium; Slavemaster; Waving Extra; Slave; Reveling Egyptian Nobleman; Queen’s Assistant; Cochette’s Assistant; Gladiator … Nathaniel McIntyre

Christmas is definitely coming early this year, for I received my second present two days after BAM’s gift of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE: a leading performance from one of Boston’s most promising young actresses --- Laura Given Napoli. One year and one month ago, I had never heard of Ms. Napoli, but after being moved by her performance in last year’s THE LARAMIE PROJECT (Boston Theatre Works) and delighted with her clowning in this year’s LEND ME A TENOR (The Lyric Stage), I began to wish for Ms. Napoli to be given a chance to break away from ensemble playing and shine in her own light, and she has been given that chance in the Lyric’s current production of EPIC PROPORTIONS, a Hollywood spoof by Larry Coen and David Crane. This spoof, which deals with the filming of a 1930s Biblical epic out in the Arizona desert and told from the point of view of the film’s extras, has already been dubbed an Extended Sketch; a One-Joke Play. Actually, EPIC PROPORTIONS is both --- a sketch slowly, slowly thickening into a play (a common occurrence with many of today’s playwrights nourished on television, shtick, and stand-up comics); I’ll go one better and call EPIC PROPORTIONS a Vehicle; i.e., a script that is either (a) tailored to a particular actor’s talents or (b) requires a skilled performer to put in what the playwright(s) left out --- EPIC PROPORTIONS is definitely a (b), and Ms. Napoli who plays Louise, the Assistant Director in charge of Extras, makes many a brick and silk purse out of it.

In my scribbles for LEND ME A TENOR, I wrote “[Ms. Napoli] bears such a striking resemblance to the late Imogene Coca in both looks and temperament that whenever she appears, the era of Screwball Comedy gives way to the Golden Age of Television. Someone should write some sketches for Ms. Napoli, find her a young Sid Caesar, and turn ‘er loose.” Well, folks, the young lady is now gloriously loose, for the first half of EPIC PROPORTIONS could have come right out of YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, with Ms. Napoli displaying a brisk, quarter-in-the-crack walk and doing wonderfully silly things such as having thousands of (unseen) extras count off into groups of four. (Hearing a mortally wounded camel moaning off-stage, Ms. Napoli pauses, then quips, “Call the kitchen.”) The pleasure in watching Ms. Napoli in this EPIC is not only does her inventiveness seem limitless (Messrs. Coen and Crane wrote the melody; each night onstage, Ms. Napoli writes the orchestrations), there isn’t a trace of knowingness about her --- you never get a sense of Ms. Napoli striving for effect; in fact, she gets some of her biggest laughs by NOT looking for them (she also has a beautiful underlying poignancy; so important for a clown!). And though something tells me Ms. Napoli could rubberband across a stage or hit the floor like a plank if she had to, she is by and large a dainty lass with the mischief and mayhem bubbling just beneath the surface of her prim yet cartoonlike mask. (Imagine, say, a sketch where Ms. Napoli plays Queen Elizabeth, crossing the stage with great dignity --- and then she catches her train on a nail….)

Ms. Napoli may not have a Sid Caesar to play opposite her in EPIC PROPORTIONS, but she is sweetly paired with Lou Costello in the person of one Christopher Robin Cook (a newcomer to me), who plays Benny, one of two brothers who become film extras and fall for Louise (guess who she chooses in the end). Mr. Cook’s moment of hilarity comes in the Cleopatra/Asp scene where Benny, as a fanning slave, must endure all-too-realistic beatings from the palace guards during numerous retakes. The supporting cast contains three of Boston’s greatest scene stealers --- Richard Snee, Neil A. Casey and Maureen Keiller (two doors down from Carol Burnett) --- and it is a tribute to Ms. Napoli when I say that she more than holds her own amongst them. Robert M. Russo has designed his second cheesy set in a row (pillars and stairs, not at all Hollywood-lavish); remembering his witty Art Deco design for the Lyric’s LEND ME A TENOR, again I must ask, “Wha’ happened?”

And now I want to see Ms. Napoli play something sexy and sophisticated --- say, Amanda, in Noel Coward’s PRIVATE LIVES --- she could easily convince me that she’s a knockout. My birthday is in April; perhaps then….?

"Epic Proportions" (22 November-21 December)
THE LYRIC STAGE COMPANY
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 437-172

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