Lost in the Translation
When Italian playwright, actor, and composer Dario Fo received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997, he was compared to the "jesters of the Middle Ages" for his ability to "scourge authority" while "upholding the dignity of the downtrodden" (as noted in the Vagabond Players' program).
The jester, as those familiar with Shakespeare are aware, was typically the one person who could tell the king to his face that he was a jerk or that his policies were poor or whatever truth the king needed to be told. This could be achieved without the threat of decapitation as these hard truths were delivered in the guise of joke and comedy, and the jester is, afterall, a fool, right?
Of course, the thing about Shakespeare's jesters was they were hardly Jim-Carrey-in-Dumb-and-Dumber types. Their humor was clever, dark, and clearly secondary to their message-such as, "Hey King Lear, perhaps the idea of giving away your kingdom while you're still alive to a pack of sycophantic jackals while consigning your one true loving daughter to oblivion ain't such a bright idea...now watch me juggle."
The jester appeared most often in Shakespeare's tragedies as the Bard knew that heavy, political-laden messages were not the stuff of comedies.
So to try and deliver a sober, didactic message via an over-the-top bit of slapstick might not be such a bright idea either, particularly if your audience is a bunch of Americans used to Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler and Jack Black-style comedies. When it comes to farce, we don't want messages about how the common man is abused by those in power or how the mass media is ravaging our morals or whatever. We want fart jokes, and fart jokes solely for their own sake (not as metaphors for the foul stench of capitalism which permeates our increasingly decadent society).
Which brings us to Fo's "satitical view of media manipulation, greed, and politics" (so sayeth the press release), "Abducting Diana," now at the Vagabond Players theater.
The play opens with Diana (or her body double, we're not sure) (Andrea Bush) , a kind of X-chromosome Ruppert Murdoch, meeting for a clandestine-fetishy tryst with a blindfolded Young Man (Mike Rosscoe). The couple is soon interrupted by a Moe, Larry and Curly- trio of kidnappers played by Brian Douglas, Frank Vince and Timothy Craighead who decide to take the couple to what is described in the program as "an ice cream factory"...though I'm somewhat at a loss as to why an ice cream factory is covered in graffiti like a crack house.
The kidnappers are later revealed to be unemployedk paparazzi and other media types who hope to document Diana in all manner of scandalous settings which apparently they'd sell to the very media outlets Diana owns and controls...at least I think that's their goal.
As one might surmise, Diana soon gets the better of her captors and appears to help them secure a $1 million ransom. Of course, if this is indeed Diana and not her body double. Mr. Craighead deserves kudos for putting his dignity and sanity on the line as Diana ties him up, electrocutes him with live wires, smears him in ice cream and alcohol, sets him ablaze and then sticks him inside an oversized refrigerator.
There are a lot of puns and quick-fire dialogue, with many shots taken at the media with lines like "a government can do what it likes to the economy, but a sex scandal really gets the putters going." There's also discussion about the media's power to serve as the mind of the people, ...the very thing explored in Edward Bernays' work, "Propaganda"...which is part of the problem with this comedy--one shouldn't be contemplating the manipulation of the masses and the founder of modern public relations in a theatrical work in the vein of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."
Further, I had the sense that the play's tempo was about 33 ½ when it was better suited to 78 rpm. Performances felt somewhat constrained, or forced as if performers were trying very hard to be funny...and when one has to try to be funny, one rarely is.
The play does pick up in the second act, particularly with the arrival of Diana's martinis-in-the-morning, semi-demented mother (Lucy Poirier) and Daniel Douek as a priest who's unseen altar boy likes to pose as an ice cream-covered statue. Of course, what a priest and an altar boy are doing at an ice cream factory is, again, one for greater minds than mine to divine.
But hey, it's a farce, all stuff and nonsense and workers-unite-a-la-Karl-Marx references which play well in Italy but may leave Baltimore audiences scratching their heads. There are plenty of tables turned by the play's end, justice is served as the greedy and criminal-minded get their comeuppance, but what should have run an hour and 20 minutes seems dragged out at 2 hours with intermission.
"Abducting Diana" continues its run at the Vagabond Players theater, 806 S. Broadway in Fells Point, now through June 26th. For tickets or more information, call 410-563-9135 or visit www.vagabondplayers.org.