July 27 2011 12:00 AM

Fitfully funny ‘Flaming’ doesn’t quite roar


While not a flameout, Riverwalk Theatre’s production of
“Flaming Idiots” is not quite as funny as it could be. In his
directorial debut at Riverwalk, Josh Martin displays skill in staging
physical comedy, but his direction of dialogue needs work, as this play
relies heavily on equally good timing of both.

“Idiots” is
the story of a dreamer and his sidekick, two regular guys who give up
their jobs at the post office for the opportunity to become glamorous
restaurateurs. They discover that a successful restaurant needs a hook
and, as their funds dwindle, they hatch a plan to get notoriety by
staging a fake shooting in the place.  

Tom Rooney’s script is not wildly original, but it does
have potential for hilarity. The characters are colorful and quirky, and
the script takes full advantage of the clichéd scenario of the
unemployed actor working as a waiter until he gets his big break: Eugene
(Ty Schalter), the actor/waiter, is delightfully oblivious to his own
ridiculousness and pretension.

As Phil, the brains behind the organization, Matthew Land
delivers a performance similar to his role in Lansing Community
College’s spring production of “Pentecost.” Early on his diction is
distractingly over-enunciated, but as Phil gets more frustrated and
desperate to save his restaurant, Land speeds up the delivery of his
dialogue until it’s hard to discern the end of one word and the
beginning of the next. It seems that some really funny dialogue may have
been lost in this fast-paced delivery.

Similar issues plague the role of Ernesto Santiago, played by Ralph Maldonado.  Ernesto
pretends to be the busboy, but is actually the mule for a mob boss
investor in the business, who is using the place to launder money. While
his jokes about being from Norway are a hit, there seem to be many
lines missed in a combination of speed and a too-thick accent.

In the second half of Act 2 the action speeds up
significantly, the farce factor increasing geometrically.
Miscommunication, misdirection and swinging doors ramp up the action
until the play practically falls back on a pillow with a cigarette in
its mouth. This would all be more rewarding if the dialogue carried
better, but the play still does deliver many laughs based on the
physical humor, as the characters and the corpse sweep or are swept on-
and offstage in a frenzy.

The final disappointment is the corpse that is to be used
for the fake hit. The prop is something like a giant sock monkey, minus
the charm of the distinctive red heel. It is too silly to allow for the
willing suspension of disbelief, and just looks limp and lame the entire
time it is on stage.

Oddly enough, the brightest aspects of this play are the
dimmest characters. As oblivious neighborhood patrolman Officer Task,
John Roche is at first low-key, but in the final act shows a complete
lack of self-consciousness as he literally lays himself bare to woo deaf
chef Bernadette (Angela Dill). Dill also applies herself completely to
her role, fully utilizing her long limbs as she tries in vain to
communicate with others through her own unique sign language.

The brightest star, though, is John Minsky as hit man
Louie. Long in tooth and short on memory, Louie is as desperate to be
taken seriously as he is to make a living. Despite his dubious
occupation, Minsky imbues Louie with such charm that he is the most
likable character in the cast.

Despite the dialogue issues, the entire cast deserves
kudos for the timing and physical pace of the climax — and for simply
keeping straight where and when to wheel that silly corpse. 

‘Flaming Idiots’
Riverwalk Theatre
228 Museum Dr., Lansing
Through  July 31
7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
$10 Thursdays, $14 all other performances; students, seniors and military receive $2 off
(517) 482-5700