BRAINWARP II: ASS RAPE A-GO-GO
Metraform at Annoyance Theatre
Ever since Susan Messing first sang "shit, motherfucker, blow job, suck my dick" in the first performance of Coed Prison Sluts, 555 shows ago, the Metraform folks at Annoyance have proved quite adept at wringing laughs from the most incredibly vulgar, infantile, almost obscene material. Rape, sexual perversion, human sacrifice, the Second Coming, the Tate-LaBianca murders, The Brady Bunch--no topic has been too gross or too taboo.
But it's becoming increasingly clear that the Annoyance vein of bad-boy/bad-girl potty-mouthed humor is just about played out. All the best of the recent Annoyance shows have aimed for a far subtler, wittier, more intelligent kind of comedy than these folks usually get credit for: Modern Problems in Science was an improvised satire of pedants and academic pretension, That Jeff Garlin Thing a cutting-edge take on one-person shows, and Poo Poo Le Arse a foray into Dada performance. Even the incredibly gross late-night comedy Brainwarp the Babyeater was funny despite the surfeit of viscous fluids and bodily functions onstage, not because of them. It's all the more annoying then to see the newest shows, Carpet Full of Pain and Brainwarp II, still trying to win laughs by grossing people out. Of the two, Brainwarp II: Ass Rape A-Go-Go is the funnier, mostly because its cast includes the more seasoned members of the Annoyance ensemble: people like Scot Robinson, Eric Hoffman, and Dan Wachtel have learned over the years how to squeeze laughs out of any situation.
Brainwarp II is every bit as obsessed with viscous fluids, bodily functions, and unspeakable acts as Brainwarp the Babyeater. This time, however, director Ed Furman and his company seem to have forgotten the skillful way they used anarchy and obscenity in the original show as vehicles for some very trenchant satire of contemporary society and our attitudes toward crime. (The first Brainwarp resembled nothing so much as a 90s version of Harvey Kurtzman's contributions to the original Mad magazine.) Brainwarp II has considerably less to say and takes a little more than an hour to say it. The plot concerns the eponymous hero--a mutant supervillain addicted to eating babies--and his adventures when he falls in with a fake magician, the Great Shebooty, and his oversexed transvestite sidekick Chili Dawg. As happens all too often in Annoyance shows, the plot wanders along for a while before focusing on a villainous attempt to take over the world with a bomb created from secretions from Brainwarp's brain.
The real topic of the show, however, is obvious from its subtitle: we're subjected to every possible joke about anal rape and intercourse imaginable, none of them very funny. That's too bad, because there are lots of terrific costumes, vivid characters, and strong comic acting here--Joe Bill's sweet transvestite Chili Dawg in particular seems to be crying out for his own show. If Furman and company had found more for these fascinating, eccentric, misfit characters to do than indulge in an infantile display of anal obsession--like how about telling a coherent, funny story for a change?--this Brainwarp might have been a worthy successor to the original.
CARPET FULL OF PAIN
Metraform at Annoyance Theatre
Everything I've said about Brainwarp II goes double for Carpet Full of Pain. Directed by Tom Keevers, who cut his directorial teeth on the highbrow satire Modern Problems in Science, the play begins with an intriguing premise--parody the dinner-theater murder mysteries that were all the rage several years ago--but then does nothing with it. Instead the show gets bogged down in trying to shock us with one broken taboo after another--brothers who routinely rape their cousin, children who coldly murder their parents, psychotic lesbian death-row inmates who yearn for capital punishment. What these folks (and those involved with Brainwarp II) don't seem to understand is that the world on tabloid TV--a world of murderous hall-of-famers and penis-trimming nail technicians--is much stranger, more troubling, and more darkly comic than anything they can cook up on the stage.
The best and funniest moments in Carpet Full of Pain are the quiet ones--when, for example, we meet a pair of bumbling cops who constantly compare themselves to TV cops and find themselves lacking. Or when, after these two are gratuitously murdered, they stop the show to sing Lisa Yeargen's sweetly satiric song "Cop Heaven." But sadly these moments are all but lost in a loud, long, willfully stupid show dedicated to the wrongheaded proposition that the only thing funnier than a double murder is a quadruple murder, and the only thing funnier than that is sextuple murder. Murder is easy, comedy is hard.