Imagine: Two advertising men arguing over about which is the more potent medium, TV or radio. One ad man cites TV: "Say I'm selling whipped cream: I can show a delicious hot fudge sundae covered in it." "But on the radio," the other ad man adds, "I can dig up all of Central Park, fill it with whipped cream three stories high and fly in a 40-ton cherry." Words, the point is, have the power to tickle the imagination and induce images that are impossible to capture otherwise.
Downtown playwright Kirk Wood Bromley knows this, and in his new work, Midnight Brainwash Revival, a screwball epic that's part King Lear, part Cheech and Chong movie, he is drunk on colorful slang, pop poetry and words, words, words. Like all of Bromley's plays, this one is in verse. Set in the fictional Southwestern town of Maob, Midnight Brainwash Revival concerns a battle of wills between a brother and sister over the property left to them by their recently-deceased father. The son is a castrated fop who hums to himself as his gold digging wife sells his father's property to a greedy land developer, much to the horror of the sister, who vainly holds onto the hope that their father is still alive somewhere.
What ensues is a whimsical fracas involving desert stoners, religious fanatics, mythical tricksters, cross-dressing bar keeps and the mysterious clan of Lips and Scissors. Bromley's poetic confection revels in romantic speeches, dirty jokes, fits of bizarre wit and teaches simple lessons that are thankfully devoid of the tired irony and masturbatory introspection that plague so much of downtown drama. Bromley's is a theater of fantasy, of imagination, and it owes more to Shakespeare and his contemporaries than to the dry naturalists and cynical absurdists of this (soon-to-end) century. He builds his story poem by poem, verse by verse, and listening to his linguistic concoctions is a real pleasure.
The enjoyment derived from Bromley's surprising use of language is not lost on the actors either. A talented ensemble, they smirk and explode and beguile in every scene and seem to savor each of their gonzo lines. As charming pervert and evil land developer Mordecon, Joshua Spafford is a swaggering delight as he chases after the heart of the good sister Serena, played with irresistible innocence by Jeni Henaghan. In addition, an amusing subplot revolves around the vagrant Uncle Hooch who slums about his brother's property, scamming guests and tourists by proclaiming his communicative abilities with The Savior. Meanwhile, the lawyer retained to officiate over the sale of the contested property mistakes the irresponsible uncle's joint for a cigar. This sets off a delightfully improbable series of events that climaxes with the lawyer, hallucinating from the drug, believing himself the messiah and collecting followers.
As Uncle Hooch, Al Benditt is a scream, and as lawyer, Swaggert, Matthew Maher chews his scenes with creative fervor. Hank Wagner, as the trickster Coyote and Lara Macgregor as a sparkely-eyed Midwestern doe, both thrill with verve and wiles. In appropriate Bromley-style, director Howard Thoresen stages Midnight Brainwash Revival on a bare stage with a minimum of set pieces, thus accentuating the actors and their various arias. This allows for a production that is not afraid to be in love with it's own theatricality. The costumes and props are appropriately quirky and the original music has country-fried melodies and East Village lyrics.