The Playgoer: REVIEW: Screwmachine/Eyecandy

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Monday, April 24, 2006

REVIEW: Screwmachine/Eyecandy

by C.J. Hopkins, directed by John Clancy
Present by Clancy Productions at 59E59 Theatres

I have never seen David Calvitto before, but based on his star turn in the gonzo satire Screwmachine/Eyecandy he is a force of nature. As nightmare game show host "Big Bob" this close-cropped wiry ball of energy gives us a compelling mix of Harold Hill and Hitler in his motor-mouthed portrait of a TV tyrant.

Unfortunately Calvitto is pretty much all Screwmachine has going for it. As Big Bob preys on his victims--a couple of married saps dumb enough to go on his show--the play makes its point early and then repeatedly. Television and popular culture, you see, feed the sheep of our middle classes out there in the heartland lies about material wealth and success without effort. That Big Bob's harangues (one big monologue, essentially) are peppered with talking points from the GOP playbook, don't make the satire any more astute. (And the subtitle "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Big Bob" dares to evoke Strangelove. Despite the fact that the victims in the play decidedly don't love Bob in the end!) And please, playwrights: don't set up a ridiculous premise and then have one of your characters keep whining, Wait, what's going on here? This is ridiculous? It's not a real game show, we get it. Now onto Act II, please.

Dramatically, C.J. Hopkins' script plays like a slim Twilight Zone premise stretched out to 90 minutes. The shallow concept would need much more filling in to sustain itself. Director John Clancy's expert cast and design team have tried giving the proceedings a touch of the absurdist. (Clancy's recently praised Fatboy was a reworking of Jarry's Ubu Roi.) But all the promising hints of Ionesco & co. only remind us that the master would have constantly confounded our expectations with nonsequiturs and table-turning shifts in power dynamics. Instead, Bob tortures his victims right from the moment of his applause-machine entrance. When his lovely assistant Vera (think Hulk Hogan in Vanna White's dress) comes out to club a contestant to a bloody pulp, the playwright's own overkill is dramatized on stage. Talk about beating your concept to death.

When even the highly watchable traveling salesman showboating of Calvitto cannot save Screwmachine/Eyecandy (and don't ask me to explain the title) from boredom, then it's a sign that the script should have been subjected to an elimination round before the game even began.

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