If one purpose of a theater review is to say whether a play is worth the price of admission, then let us be frank: The Coarse Acting Show, now playing at Carlow University, is not worthy of its $8 tickets. But it's definitely worth $5.
What you're paying for is the tomfoolery of Michael Green, the eccentric English humorist who invented the "coarse actor." By Green's definition, a coarse actor must be a selfish, lazy, talentless alcoholic. The Coarse Acting Show is the kind of play such actors would produce -- a show that's sloppy and hazardous, where lines are forgotten and cues are missed, the set pieces fall over and everybody tries to upstage everybody else. Green is an iconoclast of the silliest order; he parodies Shakespeare, Chekhov, Beckett, Melville and Italian opera. The Coarse Acting Show is two hours of Murphy's Law in action: Scenery breaks, the orchestra never shows up, and at one point the stage is flooded with tea.
Green's comedy, ever-energetic, quintessentially British, is worth about $2.
Carlow doesn't offer theater as a major, so its Theatre Group is a ragtag bunch of volunteers. There are a few talented undergrads who can truly make an audience laugh. Others are a little less precocious. And none of them, it seems, can sing on key. Directed by Stephen Fatla, they perform five sketches, each mocking a different playwright or movement; the first, an opera entitled Il Fonicazione, fails miserably. The second, a cacophonous rendition of Moby Dick, is only a hair better. Then we get Last Call for Breakfast, an avant-garde homage to Samuel Beckett: Two modernist dancers dressed in black tights get stuck in a small box while a sugar-cube monologues about existence. Now we're getting somewhere.
Act II opens with The Cherry Sisters, a send-up of Chekhov that steals the entire revue. Reaching Caesar and Cleopatra, we have enjoyed our time, even if half the actors can't enunciate and many of them can't stop smiling, even after they've been run through with swords.
Carlow's performers are enjoyable because they are clearly enjoying themselves. They're like adorable children showing off for their parents. Their love of theater is unsullied by Equity contracts or dictatorial directors. This is theater at its purest and happiest. For these young performers, so full of nervous energy, the simple joy of entertaining is priceless.
For us, their efforts are worth a further $3. And so, for $5 total, anyone would enjoy this production. That's the coarsest way to put it.
The Coarse Acting Show continues thru Sat., April 12. Rosemary Hayl Theatre, Carlow University campus, Oakland. 412-578-8749.