Friday, September 23, 2016

ART's 'Epic' Fail

Posted By on Fri, Sep 23, 2016 at 12:35 PM

I suppose it has to be done for the students. Arizona Repertory Theatre is a part of the theater program at the UA, and although there are many factors guiding the choice of plays for a given season, one of the foremost would logically be to give students a range of plays that would demand varied skills. That would result in the young thespians being exposed to lots of different types of plays, presenting challenges not only for the actors, but the designers as well.

I really can’t think of another reason that those who make these sorts of decisions would bring us Epic Proportions, a play so unarguably bad that this must be the lesson where you learn how to work with really bad material. Director Brent Gibbs oversees the action here, and in his ever capable hands the cast and crew have worked hard to make us smile at all the silliness.

I wasn’t familiar with this play by Larry Coen and David Crane, and since ART usually brings us really fine productions, I was eager to experience this one.

But what was revealed in a big, bold way was a farce/melodrama sort of thing that’s mostly just a string of jokes and sight gags. The premise of the story seems fodder appropriate for such a treatment. There is a large film crew in the middle of the desert (near Tucson) working on a big-time film—think Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments sort of thing—by big-time director D. W DeWitt—think Cecil B. DeMille. I really don’t know the exact plot of the fictional film, called Exeunt Omnes; I’m not sure we were really given that information because it’s not that important. No, the story that’s ours involves an film extra, Benny (Zachary Zupke), a young man hoping to be “discovered,” his brother Phil (Matthew Osvog) who comes to try to get him to come back home but who is himself sucked into the world of making big Hollywood films in the desert himself, and the brothers vying for the love of Louise (Tyler Reaser), who’s in charge of the extras, which number about 3400. It’s your typical epic melodrama sort of story, with chases and sword fights and mistaken identities and burning bushes that get out of hand and such, but it’s far from epic.

The students give it great effort. The thing is, this sort of stuff is really very hard to do well. Everything must be crisp, the timing perfect, actors fully committed to their personas. And this cast was invested. Sometimes their efforts made you forget that the material doesn’t deserve their investment. But they did well what they were called on to do. I'm sure there have been many
lessons learned.

The opening night audience, which was stuffed with students, seemed to enjoy
themselves immensely. And really, if this is the kind of silliness that might
entice some of them back to see the better stuff, I’m all for it.

Epic Proportions
Presented by Arizona Repertory Theatre
Various times Thursdays through Sundays through Oct. 9
Marroney Theatre on the University campus
Near Park and Speedway
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission


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