Coming up very soon, on May 17 to be exact, Firehouse will present the official-honest-to-God-no-longer-being-workshopped World Premiere of WRONG CHOPPED. Co-written by Dixon Cashwell and Levi Meerovich and directed by Connor Scully, this trio form the theatrical entity Dog Stuff. Cashwell and Scully were two of the VCU students I coached through a stand-up and sketch comedy program at TheatreVCU and I’ve gotten to know Meerovich through the plays he’s written and performed around town.
If you think I’m going to go easy on them, forgetaboutit…
You see, I have this deep affinity for avant-garde theatre, and that’s how I view WRONG CHOPPED. The creators even bill it as a “dada comedy,” but while I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment, if they wish to identify as dada, who am I to disagree?
That’s part of the Rorschach Test of Theatrical Absurdity. We, as audience members, look at what’s on stage and see different things. Think of the fable of the five blind men experiencing their first elephant; one felt the trunk and said the elephant was like a snake. Another felt the elephant’s ears and said it was like a palm tree, and so on.
In a sense that’s how we all view a show, whether WRONG CHOPPED or any other type of show. Like ANIMAL CONTROL, there’s humor, and it’s difficult to have great humor without serious situations beneath the surface. WRONG CHOPPED is a parody, but if one hasn’t seen the subject of the parody, does it have the same effect? WRONG CHOPPED employs – at times – the repetitious cadence of the Theatre of the Absurd, but only sometimes. Think of the episode of FAMILY GUY in which Peter Griffin continually sings “Surfing Bird” until he drives everyone mad.
Yeah, it’s like that.
It’s difficult for most avant-garde productions to generate enough audience for a regular theatre to produce a long run. Audiences show up for a weekend of two of fringe shows, and some festivals, like the world famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival, can show a variety of avant-garde productions in order for these works to have something of a life. The Edinburgh Festival has been the proving ground for many of today’s top comedians and playwrights and the freedom that is offered there during the roughly three weeks the festival operates attracts performers and audiences from all over the world.
The gentlemen that make up Dog Stuff (did I really just write that?) are not finely polished writers or performers. They’re rough and occasionally profane, but their voices are fresh -- very fresh. They remind me of an early incarnation of Charles Ludlam’s Theatre of the Ridiculous which became a staple for adventurous theatre goers in New York City. Ludlam and company started out by doing parodies of other work before finding their voice with BLUEBEARD, a reworking of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU by H.G. Wells.
Ludlam went on to write almost 30 full length plays before succumbing to AIDS in 1987, including his most performed work THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP. It took Ludlam several years to find his voice and to gravitate away from straight up parodies and begin to use previous works as a jumping off point to create tensions and laughs.
Will the guys that created WRONG CHOPPED have the same kind of effect on the theatre world that Charles Ludlam had? Really only time will tell, but I kind of want to be that audience member that watches what they do going forward. Get your tickets and bring your friends. The show may make you laugh, it might make you scratch your head in disbelief, but whatever happens, you’ll find yourself involved.
We’ll see you at the theatre. Aloha…