My preference, when assigned a show to review, is to attend it “bare”. This is not an admittance to being a card carrying member of the AANR*, but rather a declaration of intent to enter the production I’m meant to evaluate “bare” of any prior info and so hopefully without preconceived notions, expectations or personal prejudices.
Sometimes that works out, sometimes it don’t.
“Absolutely Filthy” at the Scared Fools Theatre was one of those occasions where it not only worked out, but I also found myself scrambling for clues to unmask exactly what type of universe my Editor-in-Chief had plunged me into. Though I didn’t recognize it as one, my first clue was a four panel comic strip by history’s most successful cartoonist inconspicuously mounted in the foyer. In the strip’s final frame, one of its iconic characters is featured delivering a two word punch line, “Absolutely filthy.”
As the lights flared up at the onset of the evening’s entertainment, the mis-en-scene confronting me was both perplexing and intriguing. A slapdash set that felt not so much “designed” as “discarded”, dominated by an abstract, rough-hewed church exterior fashioned from hubcaps and Jell-o molds. Before it stood a begrimed, meth-mouthed street dweller (Brendan Hunt) spewing a scatological diatribe on the struggle of the “Urban homeless” (Homo demens cockroachus Americanus).
“Find a pigeon, break its neck, cook it over a lighter.”
“Sometimes I s**t staples. I don’t eat staples.”
Okay, so far so good, but why the Hula Hoop? The Hula Hoop which the character – named as “The Mess” in the program – manages to gyrate continuously throughout his rant.
Clues began to add up as a group of former childhood friends, whom our babbling bum was once numbered among, slowly gather at the church for the funeral of Charles, recently succumbed to Encephalitis, who was the linchpin of the crowd, and apparently “The Mess’” dearest friend.
As the mourners ebb in, they all eventually recognize The Mess as their former playmate. There’s The Pop Star (Curt Bonnem) who was once a classical pianist of great promise. Next is the neurotic insecure Iraqi vet suffering from PTSD (Robbie Winston) and his older crabby sister (Anna Douglas) who had once been the deceased’s psychiatrist and who still carries a torch for The Pop Star in spite of his being openly gay. The Pop Star questions her presence at Charles’ service, who as a child she tortured endlessly, by always pulling up the football right before he –
Great jumping Jehoshaphat! The dearly departed is Good ol’ Charlie Brown, and the mourners the “Peanuts” gang! Schroeder, Linus, Lucy – all grown up and totally screwed up along the way! Now I get the Hula Hoop, “The Mess” is none other than the beloved Pigpen with the constantly twirling Hula Hoop filling in for the ubiquitous dirt cloud that travelled with him wherever he went.
This is an unquestionably unauthorized undertaking (Damn! I’ve been trying to go cold turkey on my alliteration addiction!) and no doubt has the corporate suits at MacPeanuts Worldwide, LLC throwing Grand Mal hissy fits.
The era of “Peanuts” extended from October 2, 1950 with the publishing of the first strip. The final Sunday strip appeared on February 13, 2000 the day after the death of creator Charles Schulz. During its fifty-year stint Peanuts would spread like a goose-stepping pandemic eventually obtaining a readership of 355 million and publication in over 20 languages.
There was no escaping its tentacles.
Even as I write this, two vintage Peanuts cloth banners are displayed on my office wall. It is indicative of its impact that, 13 years after Schulz’s passing, reprints of the strips continue to appear in the nation’s newspapers.
To MacPeanuts the 17,897 strips are hallowed text and those heathens at Sacred Fools are pissing in the holy water. “Good grief,” sayeth Charlie Brown. Peppermint Patty is now a sexually aggressive fashion maven, and Marcie, her bookish hanger-on in the strip is just one of her former lovers among the group. Franklin, the strip’s first black character, is an alcoholic judge. In a flashback, Snoopy descends from Dog heaven to comfort Charlie Brown on his death bed, and Snoopy is a babe who only speaks German!
Brendan Hunt who penned this profanity and Jeremy Aldridge who directed know their source material here and even weave in references to the numerous Peanuts TV specials with good results. And the sacrilege does not end with “Peanuts” either, as other beloved cartoon characters find themselves in the blasphemous crosshairs of satire and silliness; Cathy, Family Circle, Dennis the Menace, Jesus Christ.
Brendan Hunt’s script delivers a non-stop spew of zingers and Aldridge’s direction, while stretching out some gags a bit too long, is quite successful in keeping the show gushing along at a healthy pace. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s set while not contributing overly to the concept of the material at least does not confound it.
Overall the cast is solid. Standouts are KJ Middlebrooks as Franklin (His Honor), Anna Douglas as Lucy (The Big Sister), Robbie Winston as Linus (The Little Brother), Scott Golden as good ol’ dead Charlie Brown (The Deceased), and Amir Levi as good ‘ol deader Jesus.
It is Hunt who provides the cherry atop the evening’s fare in his pitch perfect performance playing the panhandling paranoid Pigpen. (Okay it’s time to call my AA sponsor – that’s right “Alliteration Anonymous“). Hunt seems more attune to his strengths than your average actor – Liam Neeson still doesn’t understand why Spielberg didn’t go with him for Lincoln – and his awareness has aided Hunt in penning a script which serves him as well as he serves it. He is to be commended first and foremost for never allowing the ruthless silliness of the show to bury the humanity of his character; and then there is that Hula Hoop. He keeps it going for the whole show, even as he strips down butt naked at the close of the first act he’s still Hula-ing…or…Hooping. For a guy who has never once in his life gotten past the first looping of that plastic tube, which inevitably wound from my hips to the floor – I was impressed!
Now “Absolutely Filthy” is not a show for everyone. But if you’re a fan of “Peanuts”, a cartoon aficionado, or just someone who likes their humor pitched fast and underhanded then this might be just up your alley.
*The American Association for Nude Recreation, National Headquarters Kissimmee, Florida
Sacred Fools Theater
660 N. Heliotrope Drive
January 25-March Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm
Tickets are $20 at www.sacredfools.org or (310) 281-8337