Helmed by new artistic director Kevin Gillese, Two Gentlemen of Lebowski will have you laughing to beat the band for the first 30 or so minutes while the novelty value holds up. Here, for instance, is Jeff "The Knave" Lebowski (Mike Schatz) bemoaning the fate of his beloved rug, micturated upon by ruffians following a case of mistaken identity:
It was of consequence, I should think; verily, it tied the room together, gather'd its qualities as the sweet lovers' spring grass doth the morning dew or the rough scythe the first of autumn harvests. It sat between the four sides of the room, making substance of a square, respecting each wall in equal harmony, in geometer's cap; a great reckoning in a little room. Verily, it transform'd the room from the space between four walls presented, to the harbour of a man's monarchy.
It's similarly amusing when hot-headed Walter (Marc Farley), one of The Knave's partners at "nine-pins," defends his refusal to bowl on the Sabbath and eases into a riff on Shylock's "Hath not a Jew eyes?" speech from The Merchant of Venice. Supposedly the script contains references to every Shakespeare play, which Bertocci wittily weaves into the the Coen's scenario, transplanted to Elizabethan England, with some exceptions: phones don't seem to exist, but automobiles do.
Dad's Garage brings its trademark invention to the script, coming up with amusing means to simulate tumbleweeds and bowling matches over the performing space. Before the show begins, the cast — wearing mix-and-match costumes that can combine tights with bowling shows — stretches onstage and chats with the audience, like Renaissance Fair performers warming up. Atlanta artist R. Land designs the rolling backdrops that signal each change of location (and, like the original film's dream scenes, seem inspired by 1960s underground comics.) The production even presents the porno video "Logjamming" in a format consistent with the turn of the 17th century.
However inventive, gimmickry can't sustain a full-length show on its own, and eventually you have to engage with Two Gentlemen of Lebowski as two-act play with its own ideas and identity. As the script presents analogs to most of the film's original scenes, I found myself wondering, "A Shakespearean Lebowski is a funny concept, but how does it serve this particular story?" Or as Shakespeare would ask, "What's Lebowski to him, or he to Lebowski?" Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, for instance, presents the baffled point of view of two Shakespearean stooges as a metaphor for the unknowability of human existence.
In the original film, the Coens used a satire of hard-boiled gumshoe conventions to stage a rematch between the opposing social philosophies of the 1960s. The Olde English motif muddies those themes, while the story doesn't seem particularly Shakespearean in scope. The powerful, cuckolded "Big Lebowski" (George Faughnan) attains a kind of tragic status when he laments the limitations of "achievement," while The Knave suggests a role with Hamlet's indecision and Falstaff's friends.
It doesn't help that Schatz and Farley both seem to struggle to deliver their convoluted dialogue with conviction. As a frequently stoned, inarticulate character who nevertheless speaks in blank verse, The Knave would be a challenge for any actor. Schatz has the look down pat and agreeably sings both "The Man in Me" and a hey-nonny version of "Lookin' Out My Back Door." Farley gets laughs with his punchy delivery of Walter's "Vietnam" obsession ("My friends died in muck and mire!") and uses his height discrepancy with Schatz like an old-school comedy duo. But the material cries for more experienced Shakespearean players who can convey deeper meanings and motivations, even in the silliest situations. The play's second act in particular struts and frets while signifying not much.
The rest of the cast generally provide funny turns in multiple roles, particularly Alison Hastings' turn as the arch artist Maude (the Julianne Moore role) and Matt Myers as Sam Elliott's cowboy chorus and Jon Turturro's "Joshua Quince." Accompanist Nikolaus Herdieckerhoff deepens to the production's mix of classical and modern texture with his cello music, particularly a cover of "Hotel California," but he essentially plays the same crazy carnival-style tune between scenes, which becomes maddeningly repetitive. It's a particular let-down that the show includes no riff on "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)." Overall, a Big Lebowski line that seems most appropriate for Dad's production of Two Gentlemen may be "Donnie, you're out of your depth." Or "Sir Donald, thou art out of thine depth," as the case may be.
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