Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Real Dead"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark

"Real Dead"

By Marty Barrett
Directed by David J. Dowling
Vidoe Production by David Bellenoit

Set Design by Nathan Pyritz
Lighting Design by Jason Freimark
Tech Adm Doc Madison
Props Master Alicia Gregoire
Costume Design by Tracy Campbell
Sound Design by Alexis Rodrigues Carlson
Stage Manager Brooke Casanova

Mary Brown..........................Paula Carter
Bill Reynolds/Tre........George Saulnier III
Dave/Mike.......................John Schnatterly
Beverly Turgiv......................Judith Austin
Erin/Suzie.............................Rose Carlson
Boots Lopez/Sasha..............Korinne Hertz
Sarah/Queenie......................Kay Moriarty
Aaron/Hector.....................Samuel Young

With the voices and images of:
David Bellenoit, Brooke Casanova, Lesley Chapman, David J. Dowling, Brendan Hughes, Terry O'Malley, Julie Phillips, and Pamela Rogers

If you were one of the many fans who adored THE ORANGE SHOWS you will find "Real Dead" pure nostalgia: a full-evening extended sketch pushing a single concept to its ultimate limits, not only written by Marty Barrett but with carefully created video segments by Marty's partner-in-crime David Bellenoit, crisply directed by David J. Dowling and acted by a fearless cast. But for those who expect a play, the Theatre Collective production of "Real Dead" will look like a flawlessly produced workshop of a show open to suggestions for restructure and rewrites. Here are a few suggestions of my own:

At the Theatre Collective, the show began with a collection of writers trying to brainstorm a like-a-look spin-off of their reality-television hit "Real Life", spurred by Judith Austin's producer, then harangued by a motivational consultant who insulted them into flipping the title over: the last of the group (who think they're doing the final "Real Life" show) Left Alive will win.
[This lengthy introduction, acted at breakneck speed, is full of briskly breezy comedy writing, but it looks like a shallow remake of "Laughter on The 23rd Floor". The premise is that all television is crap and nothing is more manipulative than "reality" television. Item: the panel is shown coolly choosing volunteers for the new show: a process called "Casting" it.]

There was then interruption by good fake-news footage of a woman hounded by reporters, followed by a heavy-handed satire of a C-Span interview with the new show's producer, and then the ultimate "Real Dead" show itself. (Very late in the show this can be recognized as a flash-forward.)
[The writer-panel is acted as (admittedly satirical) reality, but the television show (performed by the same actors) is acted as over-the-top silliness. They never turn into people.]

The first act ended there --- and it felt so much like a finished argument that people wondered if that was the end. Instead, a second act started with a total change of pace: apparently a come-clean confessional monologue by that hounded woman --- the "winner" of the "Real Dead" show.
[The writing here is anthracite-solid sardonic truth, engrossingly acted by Paula Carter. Finally there is a real person with believable reactions and motivations on stage. Her lies to get herself "cast" for the show become ironic and pitiable considering what the audience --- and the "winner" herself --- know of the outcome.]

What followed was a re-creation of the first meeting of the "Real Dead" contestants, then a re-play of the final episode. In between, the writing-panel re-convened to brainstorm the ultimate sequel: wherever she goes, the "winner" will find innocent bystanders dropping dead around her.
[Barrett skirts the question of anyone allowing the cold-blooded serial murder of half a dozen human beings. That license for absurdity is uproariously funny in a sketch, where everyone is as fully-fleshed as a cellophane cartoon, but in a full-evening entertainment it's simply a big, hairy elephant too difficult to ignore.]

Okay, now let me give a few opinionated and probably irrelevant suggestions to improve Marty Barrett's play. The important fact is that just about all of the pieces here are excellently polished: I have never known George Saulnier III or John Schnatterly to lie onstage, and they and the rest of the cast (particularly Paula Carter and Judith Austin) lend a necessary honesty to everything --- except the laughable louts that are the "Real dead" contestants. (Double-casting the contestants and the writing-panellists could be a way of contrasting the shallow panellist with more honest contestant; that would mean a lot of re-writing however.)

The video segments are quite "realistic" in themselves, but in my view the bedrock reality here is the "winner" monologue that opens Act Two, and she seems to me to be the key. In a sense, the Theatre Collective production looks a little as though the scenes were thrown into the air and then performed in the hap-hazard sequence in which they hit the floor. So, I would reconstruct them thusly:
The puzzling "news footage" of a mysterious woman in a blue bathrobe eluding newsmen would work well as introduction. It might be followed by a new "bridge" of her agreeing to "tell all" --- followed by her monologue as it stands. But it might easily end with the plaint "They lied to us. We were the only ones who didn't know what they told everyone! You remember---" And That sets up the interview-show segment with the Producer.

In my reconstruction, rather than a nonsense-sketch sendup of interview shows, the producer would be trying to play it straight as a serious promo-for the "real" aspects of the show --- but I would have her walk very deliberately from the interview-set into the writing-panel set to show the crass insincerity of the sausage-makers and her machiavellian task-master role, and then walk back again into her lies about truth.

In my mind, it's actually trivializing for any stage show to pretend actual murders can be contemplated. But I can see one writer saying "But we just can't snuff six people in prime time!" to be answered with "We know that, but THEY don't have to know that!"
In other words, if the mansion is a really dangerous place, if the contract emphasized 'no responsibility for dismemberment or death' and if people disappeared one by one under worrisome circumstances, the contestants could easily jump to the logical paranoid conclusion. That could allow the final survivor to make and then lose friends --- and once the seven dwindle to two it would be even more logical for her partner to commit suicide because of the strain.

And that would make her ironic final statement "Does that mean --- I Win???" even more poignant.

Now, the really important thing I have to say is this:
I have never written a play, nor even a comedy sketch.
If it occurs to me at all that I might do a better job than experienced professionals like Marty Barrett, David Bellenoit, David J. Dowling or Lesley Chapman in making a play, then perhaps each of them ought to think perhaps "Real Dead" still needs some work. Every one of them is better at doing that than I will ever be.


"Real Dead" (3 - 25 May)
Peabody House Theatre, 277 Broadway, SOMERVILLE
1(617) 625-1300

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide