Aux Dog is a good little theater. It has heart, and the productions that come out of it are generally well-conceived and entertaining. Many of its efforts are made by people who are new to the industry, but even though their greenness is noticeable, there’s a zest or charisma that rises above, making its shows nice, solid fun. Coming Attractions is, sadly, not one of those shows.
There are a few things this production has working against it. First, the script is awful. Written in 1982 by Ted Tally, it’s a play you’d expect to see your seventh-grader perform in as part of her class’ final project. This is not a show that belongs on an adult stage. The play is a commentary on the way our culture deals with the notions of celebrity and success.
Lonnie Wayne Burke (played by Matthew Van Wettering), a young Joe Schmo, decides he wants to become famous, and he takes to a life of crime to reach that goal. He holds a few people hostage in an attempt to get some prime-time coverage.
A talent agent by the name of Manny Alter (Gene Dunne) happens to walk by the scene and manages to get to Lonnie, telling him he’ll never make it big with a few measly hostages. He needs to get in on the real action: murder, but with a schtick. In this case, the schtick means dressing in a skeleton costume, carrying an orange bucket shaped like a pumpkin and screaming, “Trick or treat, you bourgeois pig!” to his victims before shooting them. Turns out the act does make him famous, and the rest of the play is spent following Lonnie through the perks and pitfalls of celebrity. This, mind you, isn’t accomplished with subtlety; it’s accomplished by hitting the audience over its collective head with a barrage of lead bricks. By the end of the performance, I felt like a cartoon anvil had been dropped on my head. (And that’s another thing—the play’s supposed to be a comedy.)
In Coming Attractions, everyone wants their 15 minutes—detectives, journalists, family members of victims—nothing is too tasteless or implausible.
In Coming Attractions, everyone wants their 15 minutes—detectives, journalists, family members of victims—nothing is too tasteless or implausible. A terrorist gives a standup routine. Lonnie marries Miss America. And, not to be missed, he even guests on a televised variety show with a lounge-act-inspired singing and dancing routine—complete with backup dancers and ... wait for it ... that damn skeleton costume.
So the script is predictable, annoying and an hour and 20 minutes too long (the runtime is about an hour and a half). It also doesn’t translate well nearly 30 years after it was written; a TV news anchor employs the classic Barbara Walters accent. Random modern-day celebrity names are dropped into lines in which it’s obvious other names used to exist, ones that would have made sense in 1982. It just feels stale.
Another one of the play’s problems is that the actors are all new (some more so than others), and although a few of them have their moments, they were directed in such a way that makes their newness starkly apparent. Asking inexperienced actors to play farcical, melodramatic roles is a mistake. Great actors can play such parts with hilarity and ease, but it requires skill, intuition and impeccable comic timing. Some of the actors on opening night—most notably Gene Dunne, who also acts as narrator—kept stumbling over their lines and didn’t have a clue when it came to pacing.
Two members of the background cast were the strongest of the bunch. Bridget S. Dunne, who plays everything from a journalist to a zealous fan, has a knack for comedy. Brian Fejer is sharp on delivery and seems the most experienced. Still, the stage production impeded some of the victories on the part of the cast—it was just off. Sound effects often came a couple beats late, lighting was screwy ... the whole thing just looked amateur.
Granted, I went on opening night, so some of the creases in this play might still be steamed out. But even so, that won’t change the fact that Coming Attractions just isn’t very good.