In most cases, if an actor or play frustrates you, he or it is doing its job. The last thing you want, after all, is to sit there, bored and unaffected.
Were that the only criterion, “Lord Oxford Brings You the Second American Revolution, Live!,” on stage now at the Brick Theater in Williamsburg, would be a big hit.
But this political-satire-meets-musical comedy show isn’t frustrating for the right reasons; it’s frustrating because it’s not very good.
The play — a variety-show-within-a-show — is set in the present day, that is if the last 232 years never actually happened and the British had won the Revolutionary War, freed the slaves and empowered native Americans, marginalizing the colonists to menial jobs and vaudeville.
Playwright Robert Honeywell has described the play as “Democracy in America” meets “Alice in Wonderland” meets “Cabaret” — but if you aren’t a history buff, you’ll probably get lost in the rapid-fire exposition and in the characters’ personal stories (which they sing, by the way).
The plot is surreal to say the least, but it only gets more confusing to figure out what, exactly, is happening.
The audience (the real audience) is actually in the theater for the “taping” of a live television show within the play.
The show’s host, Lord Oxford (Honeywell) spoke directly to the audience, and at several points, his sidekick, Patty O’Pattycake (Audrey Crabtree), socialized with viewers. At one especially uncomfortable point in the show, she stretched across the laps in our row and insisted that we pat her and comfort her.
Audience participation is always a hit or miss, as some members of the paying crowd don’t enjoy it when they become part of the action. Be warned.
Lord Oxford and Patty are actually buffoons, a type of jester-like clowning in which bright face paint, ugly-on-purpose costuming and extreme personalities are part of the act.
By that standard, they do exemplary work. But that distinction is not immediately clear to the audience, and so their over-the-top acting is instead curious. It isn’t clear why, exactly, the characters are so overly dramatic as they pull out all the stops.
To everyone’s credit, the six actors and actresses never break character, as if they adopted their personas long before the audience was seated and will retain them well after the show’s end.
Writing historical comedy with political satire that includes original music is very hard to do well, but when a production tries to include too much of everything into too short of a production, that original plan collapses inward.
In “Lord Oxford,” there’s too much going on: plot arcs, character development, back story, history lessons or what exactly is happening in the present day with freed slaves, marginalized colonists, and something called the R.E.A., or Royal Eastern American colonies.
The audience can follow along only for so long, and then things just get exasperating.
On a positive note, however, the three-piece orchestra sits on the stage, and it is quite fun to watch the live concert of an accordion, bass and piano.
“Lord Oxford” runs through Nov. 22 at the Brick Theater (575 Metropolitan Ave., between Union Avenue and Lorimer Street in Williamsburg). Tickets are $18. Visit www.bricktheater.com or call (718) 907-6189 for info.
©2008 Community News Group
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