GASPING, Interplay. Despite the fact that Ben Elton's Gasping has some moments of inspired wit, its indefatigably madcap hilarity and incessant punning become difficult to tolerate after about an hour. As the old Yiddish saying goes: "Once is nice. Twice is all right. The third time is a hit in the head."

Set in the offices of Lockheart Industries, Gasping tells of two bootlicking execs who start a worldwide air shortage and bidding war by perfecting a device called the Suck and Blow, which sucks oxygen out of the atmosphere and blows it back in a purified form as "designer air." With its loopy, supersonic-paced dialogue and its clever skewering of corporate life-style perks like Jacuzzis and cordless phones, Gasping would have worked well as an extended skit.

But Elton, who is best known in Britain as a stand-up comic and TV writer, hasn't yet mastered the dramatic form. He continually drills the same anticapitalist satire and racy genital jokes into his audience with all the subtlety of a migraine. We get Elton's environmentalist point way before his literally breathless conclusion, in which a corporate honcho tries desperately to suck up the last bit of the air his company has cornered.

Interplay's production, under the direction of Dai Parker-Gwilliam, matches Elton's script note for note, pouncing upon every glimmer of brilliance early on and clomping through every crassly redundant bit of slapstick bedlam and progreen claptrap toward the end. The polished five-member ensemble keeps the proceedings enjoyable, but eventually a craving for aspirin overrides the actors' giddy stage business and sharp, crisp delivery.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Greg Kolack.

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