Monday, February 4, 2013

Parade Productions: The Whole Caboodle (2 reviews)

Parade Productions opened The Whole Caboodle at the Black Box Studio at Mizner Park on January 31, 2013.
What do Stephen Sondheim, Abe Lincoln, munchkins and ambivalent lesbians all have in common? They all get the McKeever touch in this hilariously funny collection of the award-winning playwright's most celebrated short plays. With a wicked sense of humor and razor sharp insight, The Whole Caboodle takes apart and reassembles an entire series of loveably flawed characters and pop culture icons with hilarious results.
Kim St. Leon directed a cast that included Michael McKeever, Elena Maria Garcia, Jacqueline Laggy, Clay Cartland, Casey Dressler and Candace Caplin.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Director Kim St. Leon’s unifying concept is to deconstruct and celebrate the theatrical process, with a “dressing room” located upstage center, illuminated between the plays so that we watch the actors change costumes, pull off wigs, chow down on cookies and banter... That conceptual glue sticks the plays together but soon grows wearisome. And those audience-tested plays, work that is (or can be) poignant, touching and hilarious, are too often strangely inert. So a show that was meant to celebrate McKeever’s talent doesn’t really do it justice.
For the audience, part of the fun of a program like this one is watching versatile actors morph from character to character; Garcia, for example, gets to play the farmer’s wife in American Gothic, a free-spirited actress in Craven Tutweiler (The Real Life Story Of), a dominatrix wannabe in Love Machine, Rusted, a self-glorifying 19th century actress in Laura Keene Goes On, a funny ancient usher in Move On, or Sondheim at Studio 54 and the peeved voice of the Wicked Witch of the East in Splat!. Garcia is one of the region’s finest comic performers (she’s particularly wonderful in American Gothic and Move On), yet in Love Machine and Laura Keene, she pushes into the realm of sketch comedy as she tries to make those plays work.

McKeever is sweet as her mate in American Gothic, miscast as the mysterious and magnetic title character in Craven Tutweiler, similarly crazed as Garcia’s swinging mate in Love Machine, funny as a slightly snarky record store clerk in Move On, amusingly agitated as a Munchkin named Larry in Splat!. Laggy, underutilized in Caboodle, gives fully realized performances as the justifiably wary wife in Love Machine, a lesbian who has horrified her mom by falling for a guy in Knowing Best , and a savvy Manhattan wife coping with her theater-hating hubby’s basket-case reaction to a Stephen Sondheim song in Move On.

Cartland doesn’t really get to shine (he comes closest as the weeping husband in Move On), which is a shame, because this young actor can be masterful in the right production. Dressler’s funny performance in Craven Tutweiler is diminished by less-than-sharp diction. And Caplin, though a good foil for Laggy in Knowing Best, is flatter than the scenery in Craven Tutweiler and Splat!.
Mary Damiano reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
The Whole Caboodle has the makings of a terrific evening of theatre, but an added conceptual element prevents the show from fulfilling its potential.
The funniest moments of the evening belong to Love Machine, Rusted, a play about a couple who attempt to get out of their marital rut by having sex with a couple they find on Craigslist. Clay Cartland and Jacqueline Laggy are the perfect vanilla couple overwhelmed by their prospective bed partners, McKeever and Garcia, who together look like a sex-crazed, sado-masochistic Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, the spies from the Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons, except they’re more interested in the couple’s hamster than in catching moose and squirrel. Just the sight of McKeever in a harness and collar panting like a dog in heat and wild-eyed Garcia in a corset wielding a crop provides many of the laugh-out-loud moments of the evening.
The ensemble cast works well together.  In addition to Love Machine, Rusted, McKeever is very good as the stoic yet touching farmer in American Gothic, and as an angry Munchkin activist in Splat!  Candace Caplan has two speeds, strident and more strident, but she makes it work as a put-upon mother in Knowing Best and the uptight Republican in Craven Tutweiler. Cartland has some nice moments as a straight guy drawn to a show tune in Move On and as the coroner in Splat!  Casey Dressler does a nice turn as the young heiress in Craven TutweilerLaggy is funny as the former lesbian in Knowing Best and as the un-kinky wife in Love Machine, Rusted.

But the star of the show is Garcia.  Of course, she nails the meaty parts, poignant as the fed-up farm wife in American Gothic, side-splitting as a masochistic mistress in Love Machine, Rusted and as the self-centered diva in Laura Keene Goes On. But Garcia’s genius is that she can take even a tiny part, like the usher in Move On and imbue it with a ton of character and humor.
Director Kim St. Leon takes the title The Whole Caboodle too literally, and incorporates a backstage aspect to the evening, showing the audience not just The Whole Caboodle the show, but the whole caboodle of what goes on backstage through a large screen in the set’s brick wall backdrop.  This element takes the audience out of the theatrical experience every 10 minutes or so, sapping the energy and preventing the cast from building any real momentum...  This gimmick does nothing to enhance McKeever’s plays or the work of the ensemble cast.  The result is, to quote a character from Craven Tutweiler, “conceptually confusing.”
The Whole Caboodle plays at Parade Productions through February 24, 2013.

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