Chicago Theater Review: IMPROBABLE FREQUENCY (Strawdog Theatre Company)

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by Lawrence Bommer on February 26, 2013

in Theater-Chicago

WINTER FLUFF

“We’re all in the gutter/But some of us have our ear to the ground.” If you find this limp lyric endlessly repeated in this silly-ass, pun-crazed musical instantly amusing, read no further and see this show. For everyone else, Strawdog Theatre Company’s Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Strawdog Theatre Company’s “Improbable Frequency” in ChicagoMidwest premiere of Arthur Riordan’s Irish musical will need to take quarts of Guinness to make it easier to swallow. It doesn’t help that Kyle Hamman’s overwrought staging of this odd fusion of Rocky Horror Picture Show and Dr. Who misses no opportunity to mug and bellow. It’s louder than life and much less convincing.

The source at least is serious. In 1941, Eamon de Valera’s Irish Free State remains scrupulously – some thought, suspiciously – neutral, even though many I.R.A. members saw the Nazis as a great way to get back at the Brits (as in overthrowing Churchill and acquiring guns from secret U-boats). The fact that the Irish still call it “The Emergency” and not World War II is curious enough: The material could have produced an interesting espionage thriller musical. Instead we get the very well-named Improbable Frequency.

Riordan imagines an adept crossword puzzle (or “cruciverbalist”) named Tristam Faraday (Michael Dailey, working overtime to root Faraday in reality), a duffer who British intelligence (here a contradiction in terms) employs as a code breaker. Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Strawdog Theatre Company’s “Improbable Frequency” in ChicagoJourneying to Dublin (“Don’t patronize the Irish,” goes an opening anthem), Faraday uses his deciphering skills to discover a correlation between songs played on Meehawl O’Dromedary’s incendiary radio program and abrupt changes in the Irish weather.

Faraday also falls for a sensitive local lass named Philomena O’Shea (Sarah Goeden) and runs afoul of his colleague Agent Green (Christina Hall), a spy with shifting agendas. Working with spy boss and upper class twit John Betjeman (Jason Grimm), Faraday inevitably confronts two nasty clichés: I.R.A. baddie Muldoon (Scott Danielsen) and a crackbrained German physicist named Schrodinger (Eric Paskey), who’s working on turning radio waves into an “improbable frequency” that alters time, causality and possibly history; it just might save the Third Reich from Hitler’s death wish.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Strawdog Theatre Company’s “Improbable Frequency” in ChicagoA poor man’s Gilbert and Sullivan, the raucous music-hall score created by Bell Helicopter relentlessly delivers one jaunty trifle after another, none so touching as Philomena’s lilting love song at the top of Act 2 – beautiful blarney sweetly sung by Goeden. The preposterous plot almost excuses these inane, non-stop musical numbers. But Hamman’s heavy-handed, painfully unsubtle, local premiere makes Riordan’s compulsive wordplay even more tedious and obvious, if possible. Given bombastic stereotypes and thudding sight gags, the best tactic here would be to turn a sledgehammer into a scalpel. But, as if to kill vaudeville yet again, Improbable Frequency is an onslaught of slam-bang wretched overkill that puts the hangover before the buzz.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Strawdog Theatre Company’s “Improbable Frequency” in Chicago

photos by Chris Ocken

Improbable Frequency
Strawdog Theatre Company
scheduled to end on March 31, 2013
for tickets call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.strawdog.org

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

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