BWW Reviews: Hole in the Wall Theater Packs a Lot in URANUS
In my world, the word "Uranus" will always be funny. Slap the words "Attack of the Space Nymphos from..." before that word and you should expect comedy gold. New Britain's Hole in the Wall Theater takes us deep, deep, deep into...space with the world premiere of Bill Arnold's spoof of 1950s science fiction flicks. The big question is, "With such a snappy title, is Attack of the Space Nymphos from Uranus as hilarious as it sounds?" Sent to return with a probing review, I've come back from Uranus and can report that, although not stinky, it could use a little tightening.
Clearly a fan of such fare as Forbidden Planet and It Came From Outer Space, playwright and director Arnold shows a deft knowledge of the cheesy genre that reached its zenith during the Cold War. As the United States and Russia pushed to outdo one another with the Sputnik race, Hollywood fed American's appetites for all things outer space. The hallmarks of 50s low-brow sci-fi were starchy acting, talky sequences and dazzlingly no-budget special effects.
As a playwright, Arnold hits all of the right notes in his send-up. With a keen eye for detail, he mines the genre's tropes for all its faux-science, patriotism and repressed sex appeal. Where things get a little stiff in Uranus is when Arnold puts on his directing cap. There are very few instances where a playwright is the best interpreter of his/her own work, especially when it is a premiere. An effective director can tell a playwright what works, what doesn't, what can be fixed and what should be sent back to Uranus. That's hard to do if you are doing both jobs.
At a nearly two-hour run time, the play is longer than many of the movies it is lampooning. 1953's Cat-Women of the Moon dispatched its kitty-vixens in only 64 minutes. Much like Quentin Tarantino's exploitation film spoofs, sometimes less is more and the show could be judiciously trimmed as the space between laughs is occasionally crater-sized. And no one wants big stretches in Uranus. Similarly, some running gags run out of breath due to repetition.
The cast does a great job slipping into the stock characters that populate both Planet Earth and Outer Space. The trio of Space Nymphos who travel from Uranus (of course leaving a trail of gaseous emissions) are played with the right combination of sex appeal and menace. Stephanie Layne as Queen Fallopia, thanks to high heels and a bumpit beehive, appears to be 9 feet tall and towers regally over her subjects. Her right hand Uranian, Rebecca Meakin, makes for a sassy Major Labiana, while Scarlet Kline channels the sultry Jayne Mansfield with her sex-starved Ovaria. Matthew Skwiot amusingly plays ROBI the robot to good comic effect.
As far as the Earthlings are concerned, the standout performance in the show belongs to James DeMarco as Professor Hendron. A nutty professor, Hendron is tasked with working through all of the weird science and techno-jargon. Although he is not able to put his finger on what is wrong with Uranus, DeMarco nails the laugh lines with his off-kilter approach.
Other delights in the cast are Jessica Elizabeth Donofrio as a newshound reporter sniffing out the big story from Uranus and Scott Hoffman, an ideal character actor in the "gee-whiz" role of a cub photographer. The political and military establishment, represented by Tony Palmieri, John Carroll, Devin Horner, Johnny Peifer and Roy Donnelly, all do a fine job with their charicatured parts.
The costuming for the Earthlings by Njaye Olds are fine replications of 1950s attire, with the exception of Donofrio's look which seemed straight out of the 1940s. The costuming for the sexpot Uranians, designed by Richard Charnick, appears to have beamed down from the 1960s. I guess that is oddly fitting, because, really, anything goes in Uranus.
Photo of Rebecca Meakin, Matthew Skwiot and Stephanie Layne by ACME Photography