War is hell 

So is bad theater

M*A*S*H

through Jan. 29
Pointe Performing Arts Center
9101 International Drive
407-374-3587
pointearts.org
$20

The Pointe Performing Arts Center, home of the FantasyLand Theatrical Productions, is a large, cavernous venue situated in an unused storefront in the Pointe Orlando mall located on International Drive. The first offering of its 2012 season is M*A*S*H, a two-act comedy set in a Korean War Army hospital unit originally created in 1968 by novelist Richard Hooker. The military-medic characters were subsequently made world-famous by Robert Altman’s 1970 feature film and the popular TV series, which ran from 1972 to 1983. Sadly, this incarnation does very little to capitalize on its forerunners’ artistic and commercial successes. After enduring the first act of this poorly realized production, this reviewer made an unaccustomed intermission dash to the bar to drown his misery. War may be hell, but really bad theater runs a close second.

Fantasyland’s M*A*S*H has about everything going wrong for it that a theatrical production can have. The first problem is the script. It was written in 1973 by playwright Tim Kelly, who was celebrated for penning more than 300 plays during his career – he’s thought to be America’s most published playwright – but not for the quality of those originals and adaptations. Many of Kelly’s works are slapdash affairs written for young audiences and calculated for use by amateur community and youth theaters. Like a host of his other plays, the M*A*S*H script is short on theme, plot development, characterization, insight, subtlety – in fact, all the essential elements of a well-constructed stage play. But these shortcomings are precisely why Kelly’s plays are produced continually by nonprofessional companies – they really don’t require any theatrical craft to stage; their characters are clichéd and one-dimensional; lines are short enough to be memorized by children; there are always dozens of parts to go around; the comedy, if there is any, is juvenile; and they have about as much heft as cotton candy spun around a paper cone.

Given the fact that the script is an abysmal affair to work with, one could forgive FantasyLand if it had taken the play and attempted to breathe some redeeming theatrical life into it. But Lowrie Fawley’s lackluster direction is mirrored by a crew of miscast amateurs, none of whom seem to have had any competent stage training, notwithstanding the extensive inventory of credits listed in most of their Playbill bios. Actors shuffle around the stage, mugging and indicating, seemingly befuddled by the lack of anything in the script that they can latch onto for the formation of a believable character. There is no indication that any of the members of this 4077th MASH unit are doctors, or soldiers, or anything but a group of nice people in mismatched Army uniforms groping for some semblance of dramatic reality.

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