by Casey Curtis
When I watched a week-in-review news program this morning, Al Gore was on. Whenever I see the former Vice President I think “oh, what might have been.” When I saw The Artificial Jungle last night I felt that same way. Brilliant playwright Charles Ludlam passed away in 1987 at 44 years of age. In that span of life, he had founded The Ridiculous Theater, written 29 plays, and won 6 Obie Awards. Oh what might have been.
I miss Charles Ludlam’s ridiculousness, but you can catch one of his delectable creations right now at The Clurman Theater, directed into 100 minutes of quick-paced theatrical excellence by Ludlam’s talented partner Everett Quinton.
The Artificial Jungle mixes all human emotions into a stew of wonderful theater. Some of the ingredients are lust, greed, guilt, double entendre, silliness, ventriloquism, and puppetry. It is both heavy — because murder may be afoot — and light, because comedy is ever-present. The delight of most Ludlam plays is to take the structure of classical text and add layers of parody, camp performance, and fun. The Artificial Jungle succeeds on all these levels.
The cast, some of whom are part of TBTB — Theater Breaking Through Barriers— is fantastic across the board. TBTB utilizes actors with disabilities — one missing a hand, some with prosthetic legs, but they are wholly able performers with marvelous comic skills. David Harrell is winning as boring, stingy, yet sympathetic Chester Nurdiger, who gives audible suction-type cheek kisses to his wife, Roxanne, played by Alyssa Chase. Alyssa’s tough-cookie temptress vocal rhythms had me enthralled. Anthony Michael Lopez is similarly engaging as the vacillating between sympathetic and psychopathic Zach Slade, a drifter type who comes into Chester’s pet shop and is drawn to the rocks by Roxanne’s siren call. Every time he comes on stage, Rob Minutoli is a bolt of good-natured, high-energy electricity as the policeman who keeps missing signs of criminal wrongdoing, and Anita Hollander is Chester’s mother. Later in the play, when in a compromised position, Anita’s facial expressions as Mother Nurdiger are funny enough to cause paroxysms of laughter.
Please Everett Quinton, may we have some more? I shouldn’t moan over what might have been. Let’s just enjoy once again what Charles Ludlam gave us. Go see The Artificial Jungle. Like a real jungle, it is filled with creatures preying upon one another, filled with symbiotic relationships that go astray, and filled with ridiculously wonderful entertainment.
THE ARTIFICIAL JUNGLE written by Charles Ludlam, directed by Everett Quinton, with Alyssa H. Chase, David Harrell, Anita Hollander, Anthony Michael Lopez, and Rob Minutoli. The production team includes Bert Scott (set and lighting), Courtney Butt (costumes), Julian Evans (sound), Charles Bowden (props), Andre Sguerra(production manager), and Steve Asher (general manager).
Runs May 27 – July 1 at Theatre Row’s Clurman Theatre (410 West 42nd Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues). Performances are Tuesday – Wednesday at 7pm, Thursday – Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm & 8pm, and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $52.25, available at 212-239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com. For additional information, visit www.tbtb.org