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Bad Jazz

Robert Farquhar's deconstructive satire about making theater is hilariously brought to life by a talented cast.

Marin Ireland and Rob Campbell in Bad Jazz
(© Carol Rosegg)
How far will you go to make art? That's the central question in Robert Farquhar's absolutely hilarious Bad Jazz, currently being presented by The Play Company at the Ohio Theater. This deconstructive satire about making theater is being brought to life by a talented cast under the spot-on direction of Trip Cullman.

In the play, director Gavin (Rob Campbell) is staging an experimental new work by troubled playwright Hannah (Susie Pourfar) -- a piece that requires lead actress Tash (Marin Ireland) to give her co-star Danny (Ryan O'Nan) an actual blow-job, live onstage. This doesn't sit well with Tash's boyfriend Ben (Darren Goldstein), and producer Danielle (Pourfar again) also has some issues with it. The play is set in England, and all of the actors utilize appropriate British accents, but the behaviors they're comically skewering seem just as relevant to stateside theatrical endeavors.

Farquhar is dealing with obvious archetypes, such as the blowhard director, the actress willing to do anything for the role, and the dimwitted leading man. However, what makes Bad Jazz so effective is that the playwright endows the roles with more complexity than is immediately apparent, and the actors likewise make the characters more than one-dimensional stereotypes.

The script blurs the line between what is contained within the theatrical frame and what is not. Gavin makes it clear that he can see the audience, occasionally breaking the fourth wall to acknowledge its presence. Other aspects of the production also demonstrate a self-awareness of itself as a play, starting with Dane Laffrey's set which exposes all the backstage trappings such as a wardrobe rack where the actors go to change their costumes in full view of the audience, and a stand-alone door that is used in both rehearsal scenes and more "realistic" ones set outside the theater.

Campbell delivers Gavin's long-winded and often pretentious speeches about making art as if he really means them. This enables him to achieve an intensity that allows even his most ludicrous actions -- such as his interactions with a male hustler (amusingly portrayed by Colby Chambers) -- to be dramatically plausible, even if it's still a stretch to call his behavior realistic.

Ireland also finds the integrity in her character's actions, displaying equal parts bravado and insecurity. It's Tash's journey that we follow most closely within the play, and the actress lets us see the pain that the laughter doesn't quite cover. Ireland has terrific chemistry with O'Nan, and a seduction scene that Tash and Danny play out after hours is both hot and extremely funny. O'Nan, for his part, gets the most laughs with his quirky portrayal and excellent comic timing.

Goldstein helps Ireland to establish the right tone for the play in the show's opening scene, although his subsequent appearances could use more fleshing out. Likewise, Pourfar doesn't have much to work with in her multiple roles, but makes them sufficiently distinct from one another.

Cullman's brisk pacing makes the nearly two-hour, intermissionless piece fly by. The action ranges from the farcical to the poignantly serious, and is sometimes both at once. Ben Stanton's lighting is, at times, moodily evocative and at other moments dominated by bright fluorescents. Despite the play's title, Bart Fasbender's original music and sound design often seems more like rock than jazz, but the intentionally discordant notes that are struck are thematically consistent with the work's exposure of the difference between artistic ideals and their realization.