The Head ... A Disembodied Comedy
In case you were in doubt, The Head ... A Disembodied Comedy is a farce. It takes place in 1930s London in the basement lab of two scientists, one of whom happens to be a disembodied head. Think Young Frankenstein, but a little sillier and not as witty.
Winner of Riverside Stage Company's Founder's Award for Excellence in Play Writing, The Head is by William S. Leavengood and directed by Brian Feehan. The appropriately convoluted plot involves a gang of four crooks - a wise guy, a big stupid guy, a strange little Cockney fellow, and an excitable Pakistani - who are sent to kidnap Dr. Perry Hess (Aaron J. Fili) and end up killing him, only to find that his wife, Delya (Heather Anne McAllister), and his best friend/lover Dr. Lester Raymer (Andrew Coleman - or rather, Andrew Coleman's head) were witnesses to the murder. What follows is slapsticky mayhem and a variety of plot twists that lead to lots of evil scheming, violent deaths, and people turning out to be not what we originally thought.
Dan Kuchar's two-tiered set is a highlight of the production; it looks straight out of an old Bela Lugosi film with its stony castle walls and blinking machines and lab equipment. A large metal contraption in the center of the stage is where Dr. Raymer (or, 'The Head') sits, as the machine works as a kind of body for him (his own having been more or less destroyed when he mistook a vat of acid for a hot bath). The Head is consequently the center of attention and is played excellently with a smug-yet-vulnerable charm by Coleman. But being immobile, the action of the play is left up to the rest of the cast, who are often manipulated by our body-less hero as he tries to work a scheme to avenge Perry's death, kill off the bad guys, and commit suicide (by convincing someone to pull his plug) in the process. As The Head pulls his psychological strings, the other characters bumble and chase each other about the stage as loyalties shift and startling revelations are made. (One of the ongoing gags has the cast freeze in horror - complete with dramatic lighting cue - whenever a certain name is mentioned.)
Leavengood has done a fine job here in writing a spoof of 1930s horror flicks, and the actors all play their stereotyped parts well. But the fact is that farce is a tricky proposition these days. Generally, one prefers to think that 'funny is funny,' but sensibilities change over time and the acknowledged silliness of farce can be hard for modern audiences to deal with. A truly excellent farce could probably over come this barrier, but this one is only moderately good.
However, many of the show's gags might have simply been more appreciated had the audience been larger. Comedy is funnier in packs, and silliness is really only enjoyable when you have other people to share in it with. On the night I attended, there were only a handful of scattered patrons, and so when Izzy, the Igor-like organist, urged us to sing along karaoke-style as he played "All of Me," it just wasn't as fun as it should have been. With a packed house, though, The Head could possibly inspire a crowd in the same way that we've come to expect from the likes of The Rocky Horror Show.