Do you have a creepy, pale brother in law that is really into Rennaissance Faires and Dungeons and Dragons, even though he is in his mid-30’s? Does he spend hours in the bathroom reading gaming magazines while everyone is enjoying Thanksgiving dinner? You probably don’t give him much thought (unless you’re spooning sweet potato casserole onto his unattended plate while the sound of his overstressed sphincter whimpers behind closed doors), but once you get on that plane and head back home, he’s not on your mind, or is he? Fortunately, the antidote to the traumatic experiences with your brother in law’s dragon-lust and bowel troubles can be administered easily by the Factory Theater’s comedically offensive Ren Faire: A Fist Full of Ducats.
(There are a lot of swordfights)
This is Matt Engle’s first stint as a playwright, and he knows what the audience wants, probably because he’s been acting in Chicago for years. And if dick-joke-centric comedy has any artistic intuitiveness, Engle knows how to use it: somehow a musical dance number in a war between Ren Faire and Wild West carnies works? Jesters (generally totally annoying characters, if you don’t know), who reenact classic scenes from cinema in Shakespeare-speak? These are not the only opportunities to wonder how Engle gets away with what could have easily failed.
Matt Kahler is a confusingly hot, more entertaining version of George Bush (he hates Europe), and the leader of the log-flume and America-obsessed Wild West gang, and Matt Engle… well… Matt Engle makes hilarious faces and shakes his hands really fast. I mean, REALLY fast. I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to write things like “really awesome” and “OMG” and “holy shit, dude” about actors in theater reviews, but, in my defense, this show isn’t a real “thinker.” I don’t think fancy theater words would be appropriate. And holy crap, there’s eleven other actors in this show to talk about. Supporting actor Jennifer Pompa somehow manages to not break character even when people aren’t looking at her, and Scott OKen demands laughs by just walking on the stage, before describing the characters of Steel Magnolias as “old gash,” and discussing the merits of unprotected sex.
Of course there are problems. Most audience members dread the awkwardness of pre-show actors mud-begging all up in their face, but the desire to annoy people is certainly understandable. Also, the play addresses itself as a play (calls itself “a lighthearted summer comedy”), half-breaking the dreaded fourth wall, which always always always makes me grumble. And the final scene, a fighting and swords orgy, an otherwise perfect crescendo of violence, is disrupted by a boxing-ring-girl dressed in different genres of nerd sub-cults (furries, Harry Potter wannabes), a punchline on a scene that doesn’t need another punchline.
(But there are swords!)
This play is like a really good restaurant that you always take your friends to, and every time you go in there to eat, your friends say, “Wow, this place is really great, why is it so empty?” And that’s my question about Ren Faire, why AREN’T there more people feasting on this?
Ren Faire: A Fist Full of Ducats at Prop Thtr, 3504 N. Elston. By Matt Engle. Directed by Kyle Hamman. Executive Producer: Carrie Sullivan. Producers: Sara Sevigny and Joe Gehr.
Ren Faire runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 and Sundays at 7:00, through August 2.