The Happiest Ads
The Happiest Ads
The Happiest Ads

Professor Ralph’s Loss Of Breath (2014 Frigid New York Festival)

by Geoffrey Paddy Johnson on February 27, 2014

No Gravatar

Loss Of Breath


Watching the performers in Playlab‘s production, Professor Ralph’s Loss of Breath, can shortly leave you in ready sympathy with the central character’s unlikely plight. The proceedings move at such a rate, the lines flow at such a pace, you’ll be virtually breathless trying to keep up. You needn’t fret unduly, however, if you miss a detail or an allusion (and you’ll probably miss a couple). You are fairly comfortably installed in a parallel cartoon universe where nothing matters too much because, well … because now look what’s happening!  The two performers, Scott Michael Morales as Mr. Lackobreath, and Robert Berliner as Toby Dammit (and everybody else, come to that) charge through their scenes describing character, setting and action, alternately capering, prat-falling, breaking into song, dueling – verbally and physically – at a positively giddy tilt as the madcap tale unfolds. This could prove mere irksome slapstickery if it were not for the quality and commitment of the actors. Director Kevin P. Hale has struck a rich seam of gold in recruiting this duo, never mind it being some class of fool’s gold. Both project an instantaneous theatrical charisma, lavish with the vaudevillian understanding that only a high energy showmanship will do to keep this quirky puffball of a feature aloft. As a team they have a comedic aura just standing together: Berliner tall (and by more than just a head and shoulders), soignée and devious; Morales shrimpish, cocky, and gullible. Together they could almost put over anything, which is good as they’re asked to put over quite a lot. They’ll keep you watching even as your brain is wondering – how does anyone find the time to think this stuff up?

Robert Berliner as Toby Dammit. Photo by Paul Fox.

Robert Berliner as Toby Dammit. Photo by Paul Fox.

A downright silly storyline follows the frankly fatuous quest of Mr. Lackobreath to retrieve his, well, lost breath. This he has lost in the course of an argument with his new young wife. Of course. In rapid succession he becomes a fugitive from the police, the patient of a surgical quack, the quarry of a lustful virgin, the dupe of a convicted criminal, the subject of a public hanging, and the mark of Mephistopheles. And probably a few other things I forgot to mention. The rag-taggle tumult of events comes from the pen of Kevin P. Hale, who so brilliantly showed his puppet piece, Poe-Dunk: A Matchbox Entertainment, at the 2012 Frigid festival. Hale claims to have adapted it from one “Professor” Ralph Phillips, a nineteenth-century  American itinerant puppeteer, who translated it from a German language version which was itself an adaptation of an Edgar Allan Poe short story, Loss of Breath, from 1832. Said Prof. Phillips allegedly, following his absinthe-soaked tour of Europe, repaired to Vermont where he established the puppetry department at one Eldritch College, in Glover, VT just before he died on Halloween night in 1911.(Searches on line for an Eldritch College in VT yield nothing, but there is in the virtual vicinity an Eldritch Institute promoting a fairly wicked tee-shirt design featuring an impression of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu.) Invention, adaptation, or a combination thereof, the piece does hold much of the naive quality of story telling common to popular entertainments of the 18th and 19th centuries, being riddled with vulgar sexual innuendo while hollowly purporting to tell a tale of moral instruction (this one champions Perseverance). Poe’s original story is itself breathtakingly silly, but does bear the hallmarks of some of his distinctive phobic obsessions – guilt, suffocation, paralysis, live entombment – which are all nimbly presented here. A good smattering of olde world misogyny gets some play, coded and uncoded, and for those who would wish to delve a little deeper for subtext, themes of emasculation, loss of libido, impotence, homophilia, and auto-erotic strangulation might be induced to raise their curly heads. Then again, Punch and Judy was about a wife-beating, tyrannical felon. It’s all great fun. Inquiring minds might like to know more about Prof. Ralph, Eldritch College, and the ur-text of this creation, but it’s probably a safe bet to consider that Hale and the Playlab troupe are from that select type your grandma warned you about, carny folk. Providing you don’t believe a word of it, you’ll be fine.

Scott Michael Morales as Mr. Lackobreath  photographer Paul Fox

Scott Michael Morales as Mr. Lackobreath photographer Paul Fox

More than fine, you’ll be highly entertained. Beneath all the tom foolery and apparent sham-ery is a cunning mind, rich in theatrical lore, and better, a beating heart of creative purpose.


Professor Ralph’s Loss Of Breath
Company:  Playlab NYC
Directed by: Kevin P. Hale

Remaining Performance:
Mar 05, 7:05PM
Mar 08, 12:30PM

Click HERE for tickets

Running time: 1 h 0 min
Price: $10.00 – $15.00
Seating: General Admission

The Kraine Theater
85 E. 4th Street
New York , New York 10003
2nd and 3rd Ave

Horse Trade Theater Group will present the 8th Annual FRIGID New York Festival at The Kraine Theater (85 East 4th Street between 2nd Avenue and Bowery) and UNDER St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place between 1st Avenue and Avenue A) February 19-March 9. Tickets are available for purchase in advance at or by calling 212-868-4444. 

Print Friendly

Related Posts:

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: