In The Kung Fu Importance of Being Ernest, revenge and cucumber sandwiches are dishes best served cold. While most people are used to seeing the characters of Oscar Wilde's comedy of manners cutting each other down with stinging repartee, in this production, they're whipping each other with canes, smashing faces with patio chairs, and generally sparring with all of the respectable furnishings one might find in a 19th-century English household.
The classic comedy, of course, follows two gallivanting cads who invent alter egos named Ernest that they can blame for all of their indiscretions. Jack Worthing (Dan Deming) is in love with Gwendolyn (Jessi Gotti), but her aunt, the deliciously heartless Lady Bracknell (Cole Kazdin), does not approve of the fact that he was born an orphan. Algernon Moncrieff (Stephen Dale) wants to marry his fetching, young ward Cecily (Andrea Marie Smith), but Jack, who is her uncle, knows his flirtatious ways too well to approve. To make matters worse, both ladies dream of marrying men named Ernest, and they will not accept either of their proposals if they reveal their true identities.
It might be superfluous to lambaste Victorian manners with chop socky when the play already does it with dialogue, but who could object about a show that brings together some of downtown's most exciting entertainers? Timothy Haskell, the brain behind stage adaptations of Road House and Fatal Attraction, conceived the show. Fight choreographer (and accomplished playwright) Qui Nguyen is in top form here, steering a game and capable cast. Especialy noteworthy are Deming and Smith, two regulars from Nguyen's Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company, who are seasoned in his trademark brand of slapstick.
As a former erotic writer who shot a documentary about porn, Kazdin would seem an unlikely candidate to play the prudish Bracknell, but she pulls it off admirably. She can act shocked like the best of them, but can still manage to scissor kick above her head. Iracel Rivero amuses with her slightly unhinged Miss Prism, who here is in love with a Darth Vader doll that she images to be Dr. Chasuble. Despite these bits, director Michael Gardner's 90-minute adapted script is remarkably faithful to Wilde's original; if anything, he could afford to chop it up some more with a samurai.
If you've been wondering what director Paul Provenza has been doing since the success of his potty-mouthed documentary The Aristocrats, he's been working with Dean Cameron on a swindle called The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam. Cameron had apparently been cleaning out his junk mail, which was filled with requests from millionaire Nigerian doctors to transfer their fortunes into his offshore bank account. Rather than delete the letters, Cameron decided to scam one of the scammers with a correspondence that began with a reply, "Great! Do you have any toast?" Nine months later, he trimmed the emails and phone records into this hour-long show.
On one side of the stage, Cameron is at his computer in his robe, shooting off emails and pretending to be a lonely millionaire from Florida. The scammer (played by Victor Isaac) on the receiving end is posing as Ibrahim Abacha and his widowed mother Mariam. Cameron sends long-winded letters revealing intimate details about his hairless Filipino manservant and attaches pictures of his two excitable cats named Mr. Snickers and Jo-Jo the Dancing Clown. He proclaims his love for Ibrahim's mother, and gets the scammer to pretend that she's fallen for him as well.
People often wonder who can be so gullible as to fall for these email schemes, but it's fascinating to watch how the con-man falls for the con. Cameron barely tries to make his story believable. At one point, he pretends to hire Perry Mason and Owen Marshall (two famed fictional lawyers) as his legal representation, and puts them on a conference call. Whenever Ibrahim demands his payment, Cameron pretends to misunderstand the instructions, confusing "Western Union" with "Western Onion" and DHL with a local ice cream shop called DLH.
After the show, audiences are invited to take part in the revenge by disposing of any junk they have on hand for the spammer's care packages. You don't get to do that at the movies!