For this year’s Fringe, writer-director David Strauss has dropped the cinematic Shakespeare adaptations that he’s successfully staged for the last few years, and instead set his sights on the story behind Moose Murders, an infamously awful 1983 Broadway flop. Neophyte playwright Arthur Bicknell (Damany Riley) and his agent, Dennis (J Scott Berry), are taking their unfunny farce direct to the Great White Way with the help of incompetent director John Roach (Jim Izirillo) and his ingenue wife (Katherine Riley). Together they recruit screen legend Eve Arden (Kendra Musselle) to star, but her inability to remember her lines swiftly sinks the show, leaving little but epically awful reviews to remember it by.
Strauss sticks close to the facts, not changing any names to protect the not-innocent, and some of the batshit behind-the-scenes anecdotes have the feel of a real-life Noises Off. As Arthur, Riley has just the right tone as he breaks the fourth wall to speed up the exposition or point out fancy foreshadowing, but few of the other actors (aside from Susan Woodbury, making the most of her abrasive assistant role) match his expressive energy level. There are witty moments with lots of comic momentum, but then the show hits the shoals of slow queue pickup and sluggish scene transitions.
Ultimately, the backstage drama isn’t quite as interesting or funny as I hoped it would be, but I was unexpectedly touched by the relationship between Arthur and Dennis, thanks largely to Riley and Berry’s emotional investment. The best part of the script is the brutal blurbs from actual reviews, including the titular quote: "This show would insult the intelligence of an audience consisting entirely of amoebas." Strauss’ show is certainly far more entertaining than the trainwreck it mocks … but then again, we’re still talking about Moose Murders 40 years later; can you say that about Steaming or On Your Toes, which won Tonys that same year?
An Audience of Amoebas
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