Review: I Have Seen Hell. They Call It: ‘Adults Only’

Review: I Have Seen Hell. They Call It: ‘Adults Only’

Thomas Burns Scully

Have you ever switched on the TV and found ‘Two Broke Girls’, or ‘Two and Half Men’ playing? I have. It’s always an odd, if brief, experience. Attractive people sit on my screen, they say unfunny things as if they should be funny. The studio audience laughs wildly, but I don’t. I change the channel, I watch ‘Community’ I laugh at jokes that are actually funny, and the world spins ever onwards through its seemingly-perpetual, yet distantly terminal solar orbit. But what if I couldn’t change the channel? What if I was stuck there, in an upside down world where things that aren’t funny are supposed to be funny? What if I couldn’t watch ‘Community’? I had to watch ‘Two Broke Girls’, and listen to that incessant, nonsensical laugh-track for two and a half hours? The other day, I crossed through the Scary Door and in to the Twilight Zone, where I found such a world. Submitted for your approval: ‘Adults Only’

‘Adults Only’ is an evening of seven one-act plays, all written by Dean Imperial. It ran at The Barrow Group Theatre up until recently, produced by the Core Artist Ensemble. All of the plays were themed loosely around the idea of adult topics and taboos, creating a raunchy evening’s entertainment. Topics covered included heart attacks, escorts, lesbian flings, restaurants, star signs, sexual mores, socks, relationships, gay giraffe sex, and gruesome magic tricks. Each play averaged about twenty minutes in length, mostly two handers, with the occasional five-person scene. I didn’t like any of it. However, the audience around me couldn’t stop laughing. In the loosely translated words of Wicket W. Warrick on the occasion of first his meeting with Princess Leia: “What the actual fuck?”

So, I am prepared to accept that my sense of humour is different to other people’s. I am prepared to accept that I am not the one great and final prophet and judge of all things funny. But I can’t for the life of me work out how a roomful of people could be laughing so hysterically at material that was mediocre at best. I don’t know whether to be more angry at the writer or the audience. Nothing in this show was better than a season finale episode of ‘Two Broke Girls’. Actors would say lines that weren’t punchlines, as if they were punchlines, and people would laugh. I found a grand total of one solitary line to be of genuine merit (For the record, it was “We just watched a three hour opera… about tuberculosis.”). At a certain point it can’t just be my sense of humor can it? Can it? I legitimately don’t know. If you know, please write in.

For the record, I didn’t find any of the actor’s performances to be particularly objectionable. Most were solid, in fact. Perhaps that is what elevated the script; actors who knew how to do comedy and a director (Alex Correia) who knew how to direct comedy. It’s the only reasonable explanation as far as I can see, beyond a visit to the theatre by a full roster of out-patient lobotomizees. Because it’s not just that this show, gag-less as a closeted-Puritan’s secret sex dungeon isn’t, wasn’t funny, it’s that it was dull too. Not a single one of these plays told an interesting story or had anything interesting to say. The ‘Adults Only’ premise seemed to suggest that it might have some opinion, or some grand societal taboo to shatter, but alas, ‘nul points’. Now, not every show has to be ‘about’ something. Six hilarious seasons of ‘Family Guy’ proved that. But comedy that is going for nothing but gags has to be very good to consistently hold your attention, otherwise it falls down on its face hard and fast. Eight increasingly dour seasons of ‘Family Guy’ continue to prove that. It seems to me that ‘Adults Only’ does the same thing.

The echoes of jokes that could have been sing a banshee’s death knell in my ear, but a sweet Edith Piaf song in everyone else’s. By which I mean: I honestly don’t know what to say about this show. I can’t present a consistent thesis as to why it happened the way it did, because I just don’t know for sure. My best guess, the actors were good enough to convince an audience that the sub-par scripts were better than they were. The only other alternative is that my sense of humor is broken. Which is worrying for my burgeoning comedy writing, acting and improv career. This self-indulgent, over-long snooze held my attention by virtue of being the only thing in the room not shrouded in darkness, and even then, my glow-in-the-dark watch face was a more welcome diversion. I’m of the opinion that one-act festivals should be one-hundred minutes maximum, this ran two and a half hours with an intermission. Even if the evening had been amazing, I still would call that self-indulgent. To call the thing one-note would be wrong. It was seven-note. One for each play, each as unchanging, unwavering, not building to anything, not shedding light on any facet of humanity, and, (not forgetting) not funny, as the last. Except for all the stuff that made everyone else laugh. That’s the real ‘Twilight Zone’ ending to all this. Well done, Dean Imperial, you appear to have written a show that exactly everyone except me finds funny. Why would you do this to me? This is vindictive. Maybe that’s the moral, maybe I’m not an adult, and the show really was for… ‘Adults Only’. Seems about as good a theory as any.

‘Adults Only’ was produced by the Core Artist Ensemble at The Barrow Group Theatre. It ran until February 21st. For more info see coreartistensemble.org.

This review was written by Thomas Burns Scully, a New York based writer, actor and musician. His work has been lauded by TimeOut NY, the New York Times, BAFTA US and other smaller organizations too numerous to mention. His writing has been performed on three continents. He is generally considered to be the thrifty person’s Renaissance man. 

Follow him on Facebook (as Thomas Burns Scully), and on Twitter (@ThomasDBS)

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