by Teddy Nicholas · August 18, 2014
Fatty Fatty No Friends is a macabre operetta about the horror of school bullying and its devastating consequences. Tommy (a terrific Jason Sofge) is constantly bullied by his fellow classmates because of his weight. Two similarly outcast kids, Bobby (a standout Malcolm Jenkins Yancey) and Emily (Mallory Campbell), attempt to befriend Tommy, but their attempts are thwarted by the popular kids in school who encourage them to taunt Tommy. Three dark spirits on stilts spark Tommy’s rage from within, and once the last straw breaks the camel’s back, Tommy lashes out with deadly consequences.
The music and direction by Christian De Gre is impressively sombre, tightly blocked, and, at times, earnestly spirited and reflective. Supporting the teasingly memorable lyrics by Joseph Reese-Anderson, the songs (the show is almost entirely sung-thru) feature complex melodic and counterpoint lines, featuring some impressive choral harmonizing and staccato wordplay by the incredibly able young ensemble. The onstage band and the supporting ensemble are dressed in Dresden Dolls-like Brechtian-punk garbs (impressive costumes by Ashley Soliman) and makeup (haunting makeup by Kate Marley). Indeed, the book by Serrana Gay, De Gre & Reese-Anderson is pure parable: Tommy could be any outcast child in America. The terrifying logical outcome of tormenting weaker children in schools often provokes deadly and devastating consequences, including suicide and murder.
It is impressive that Fatty Fatty No Friends follows its logic, then gives us pause to wonder about the true monsters of our society. I believe this piece, once fully finished (it is still in development) would be best served produced in middle schools all over the country. This is a show that looks deeply at the core of our society’s faults, and delivers important messages, and should be delivered to those who need it most: Our youth.
My Personal Hell, written and directed by Jonathan O’Neill, is an able effort by an ensemble of young people to stage a Neil Simon-like murder mystery set in Purgatory. Tucker (AJ Golio) arrives in Purgatory only to discover he’s been murdered and, even worse, must solve his own murder in order to advance to Heaven. Throughout the course of this 90-minute comedy, Tucker must navigate through a labyrinthine of characters including Aaron (Michael Brown), a bumbling first-time detective; Annie (Shannon Morrall), Tucker’s distressed fiancee; Erika (Alyssa Marino), the ambitious mayor and her closeted gay husband Howard (Michael Guaiglia). As the plot unspools and the somewhat rapid-fire dialogue sputters, Tucker (and the audience) find it harder and harder to discern just who is doing what and why and where.
Comedy is one of the hardest things to write, even harder when writers write for laughs, and actors play for them. Especially hard when adding meta-narrative humor to an already tumultuous murder mystery plot. O’Neill doesn’t help the audience by keeping his entire cast onstage throughout the entire piece. I couldn’t tell who was in which scene and who wasn’t at any given time. It also didn’t help that the huge Sheen center space in which this production was staged seemed to swallow the show by its sheer depth. One of the most invaluable lessons a young theatre artist can learn is to keep it simple, and I believe O’Neill would greatly benefit from this advice.
By the time we get the final monologue by the bumbling detective who tells us everything we’ve seen, I wondered why the piece couldn’t have been written in this matter, which was smart, funny, and quickly paced. There is a huge difference between confusion and mystery, and confusion never helped tell a story, or a joke for that matter.