HA! is a trio of Rich Orloff’s most popular and acclaimed one-act comedies: Oedi, a parody of Oedipus Rex, The News From St. Petersburg, a Chekhovian spoof set in 1905 Russia, and The Whole Shebang which portrays the entire universe as just a college student’s masters thesis on another dimension. What they all have in common is a talented cast, and a base-note of comedy which ranges from the absurdly silly to the thoughtfully facetious giving audiences an opportunity to indulge in every kind of laugh from the titter to the snort to the guffaw. Coincidentally all three plays just happen to take place at 4:00 in the afternoon.
Each member of the talented cast has an opportunity to play multiple roles throughout the evening as they traverse from ancient Rome to the well appointed living room of the Russian Aristocracy, to, ultimately, some nebulous region that sits high above the universe we call home.
Oedi takes us to the land of Thebes, where the king is meeting with his advisor (and brother-in-law) Creon as well as the blind old seer, Tiresias. As delicately as possible they are trying to explain the situation Oedipus got himself into when he fulfilled the prophecy. No spoilers here – poor Oedi killed his dad and married his mom, Jocasta. While he’s devastated and trying to deal with this news it seems Jocasta takes it all in stride. In fact, she wasn’t in the dark at all – and sees marrying her son as simply in keeping with tradition. ”Look at the Gods,” she proclaims. “The immortal Zeus has slept with his half-sister, his quarter-sister, his sixteenth-sister. If our own immortal gods get to diddle their relatives, why can’t you?” When Oedi protests Jocasta remarks, “Must you make everything so complex, Oedipus?”
Oedi is filled with rim-shots and one-liners; broad humor which swings wide and never fails to telegraph a wink to the audience. This serious story is all in good fun, and with Mike Smith Rivera playing Oedi as an overblown comical fist-shaker the audience can’t help but laugh their way through this one-act.
The News From St. Petersburg finds the landowner Fyodor and his wife Anya, discussing what passes for the important matters of the day: does the sky turn black or does it turn a dark blue towards evening? The rest of the conversation is a delightful poke at Chekhovian text as neighbors with multi-syllabic names are referenced. Aekseyevich Kulibin and Semon Penteleyevich Rogov and Ivan Konstantinovich Begushkin just to name a few. After which Fyodor muses “I hear that in America, there are people named Bob.”
Into this discussion comes their friend, the good doctor Nikolai who is there to deliver news of revolt and uprising and revolution. Sasha the servant tells of freedom marches, and the entire household is turned upside down by the news. At least, it appears to be. By the time the good doctor leaves fact is separated from fiction and we find that the news which traveled through the lower ranks was more idealization than realization. Fyodor and Anya are as they were in the beginning, completely unaffected by the events and, just as when we met them, riding out the late winter afternoon until dinner.
The final piece of the evening is The Whole Shebang – a clever situation that gives us a student delivering his master’s thesis. Without fanfare he explains that he devised a “self-sustaining and self-evolving, matter-based ecosystem in a universe of three dimensions. And so I created the heavens and the earth.” From here the entire act fashions this nerdy, eager student as The Almighty Creator who must now define and defend all he has created to his two professors. While discussing various aspects of the universe, ultimately the entire success boils down to the creation of human beings. Two people are brought in as examples and even though somehow they’re the wrong 2 subjects (and don’t give as exemplary a picture as the student would have hoped) the conversation which ensues is both amusing as well as clever and a great fable that holds up a mirror to humanity and speaks to our reliance as a species.
Jarel Davidow, Anne Fizzard, Gerrianne Raphael, Mike Smith Rivera, and Evan Thompson play well off each other and create a wonderful atmosphere where Orloff’s lines are able to zing and bounce for best comic effect. Each actor does a solid job of bringing new spark to each role; every time the lights come up they have completely transformed themselves and yet consistently deliver laughs.
Just as thoughtful as it is funny, HA! is a well staged show that features a terrific cast. Definitely a great night of theatre that has as many lessons as it does laughs.
HA! March 30 – April 15, 2012 Jewel Box Theatre WorkShop Theater Complex 312 W. 36th Street 4th floor
.Monday and Thursday at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. 3 p.m. matinees on Saturday, April 7 and 14 and Sunday, April 8 and 15.
.Tickets are $18 (students and seniors $15) Click here or call (866) 811-4111