Los Angeles Theater Review: SURF DOGS UNITE (Actors Circle Theater in West Hollywood)

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by Barnaby Hughes on July 31, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles

IRREVERENT IN TRANSLATION

In the same way that many really awful movies are actually good in the sense of being funny to laugh at (rather than laugh with), so the screenplays chosen by the Magnum Opus Players for stage use are so terrible that they make good comic theatre. And just to be absolutely clear, they  perform these screenplays on the stage, they’re not staging plays.

Barnaby Hughes' Stage and Cinema L.A. review of Magnum Opus' SURF DOGS UNITEL.A. is, of course, awash in badly-written screenplays, some of which get made into movies. Most, however, never make it past the poorly paid readers’ dustbins. The Magnum Opus Players see it as their mission to rescue such “works of dramatic genius from complete obscurity.”

So how does one perform a screenplay “word for word” on the stage? You get a narrator to read the scene settings and character descriptions, namely one Thurston Eberhard Hillsboro-Smythe. Dressed in smoking jacket and cravat, wearing oversized spectacles, speaking with an upper-crust English accent and sipping on a martini, he provides something akin to a running commentary on the performance. With this framing device in place, each player appears as summoned. Descriptions of characters are acted out quite literally, whether by facial expressions, actions or verbal sounds, often in ways that the screenwriter could not have envisioned. And that is part of the performance’s charm, although it can be confusing at times, as when one character performs an action on himself that he was supposed to do to another – that is how literal it gets.

Barnaby Hughes' Stage and Cinema L.A. review of Magnum Opus' SURF DOGS UNITE

Surf Dogs Unite seems to have been written by an Evangelical Christian for the purposes of evangelism. It is transparent and superficial even for its genre. The story centers on a pious young surfer and evangelist named Joshua (Eric Johnson). Joshua enters the story kneeling before his surfboard and praying for the conversion of his fellow surfer Dan (Michael Lanahan). Dan, though, is a bad sinner, a serial womanizer and all-around bad influence on Little Rad (Colin Wilkie), a naïve teenage virgin. After Little Rad dies, Dan joins a motorcycle club led by Wrench (Troy Vincent). Dan’s newfound rebellion, however, fails to fill the whole in his heart left by Little Rad’s death, so he meets up with Joshua and is born again. Fortunately, The Magnus Opus Players cut the story short. It’s obvious where the script is going, so there is no need for them to bring Surf Dogs Unite to its, no doubt, stunning, salvific conclusion.

Barnaby Hughes' Stage and Cinema L.A. review of Magnum Opus' SURF DOGS UNITE

The eight-member cast is rounded out by Dan’s roommate Swave (Martin Yu) and a trio of female love interests played by Franci Montgomery, CJ Merriman and Megan Crockett. While the acting is not intended to portray depth or subtlety, it is certainly heavy on comedy of the satiric, parodic and slapstick varieties. The company has quite a creative eye and manages to milk the script for all its unintended worth. Stage design is minimal, but props are numerous, including handlebars (for motorcycles), bodyboards and long-haired wigs. Surf Dogs Unite is an irreverent take on a pitiful attempt at film writing that will leave you both doubled over with laughter and grateful that creators Joe Jordan and Vanessa Claire Stewart had the vision to grace the stage with it.

photos by CM Gonzalez

Barnaby Hughes' Stage and Cinema L.A. review of Magnum Opus' SURF DOGS UNITESurf Dogs Unite
Magnum Opus Players
Actors Circle Theatre in West Hollywood
scheduled to end on August 11, 2012
for tickets, visit Magnum Opus

Magnum Opus’ Worst Screenplays Ever series continues with:
Le Phoenix Vert, directed by Jaime Robledo
plays August 18, 25, and September 1
Star-Crossed Love, directed by Joe Jordan
plays September 8 and 15

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