REVIEW: 200 Bullets and Seven Poison Apples (n.u.f.a.n.)

Dirt-cheap dirty jokes

 commerical

n.u.f.a.n ensemble presents:

200 Bullets and Seven Poison Apples

 

By Paul Barile
Directed by
Rachel Edwards Harvith
At
Prop Thtr, Avondale Through March 27 (more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

As the judge remarked the day that he
acquitted my Aunt Hortense,
‘To be smut  It must be ut-
-terly without redeeming social importance.’       —Tom Lehrer, "Smut"

In the Golden Age of radio theater, every serial had its soundman, the crew member who created the sound effects, often by hand — clapping coconuts together for hoof beats or twisting sheets of cellophane for a crackling fire. In n.u.f.a.n. ensemble‘s staged radio play, 200 Bullets and Seven Poison Apples, Mike Dunbar, in the role Hap the Foley Guy, spends most of the show blowing bubbles into a jar of water, clanking chains and beating cymbals, and creating convincing sounds while working up to a stretch of brilliantly frenzied physical comedy that’s the highlight of the show.

And just about all that keeps it from meeting Lehrer’s definition of "smut and nothing but."

joe irvingMost of Paul Barile’s world-premiere comedy is a gleeful barrage of raunchy double entendres, ribald puns and blatant sexual innuendos — like a 1940s party record, only filthier. Think humor at the level of “I Used to Work in Chicago" or "Shaving Cream" crossed with the Urban Dictionary.

If dirty jokes give you a thrill, "200 Bullets" will keep you laughing. And since tickets to the late-night show are just $5, the low comedy comes at low cost.

The play is set behind the scenes at a 1937 radio show. Due to a strike, management has brought in inexperienced scab writers — prisoners in a volunteer program — who’ve created a futuristic radio drama pitting humanitarian scientist Dr. October, heroine Liberty Pink and her sidekick, Attaboy, against the malevolent, power-seeking Malice and M’Lady and their henchman, Bilge. As a result, regular advertisers have dropped out, and new sponsors, such as Wicked Willie male supplements, have provided unusual commercials. The last-minute arrangements mean the radio actors go on the air without first having seen the script.

The ensembleKeely Maureen Brennan, Justin Cagney, John Champion, Mary Czerwinski, Joseph E. Hudson, Emily Kane and Ben Veatch — all do a fine job in their dual roles as radio actors and futuristic heroes and villains, while Zach Uttich plays the mostly off-stage Eugene the Engineer. Barile’s script leaves no place for the characters to discuss the peculiarities of the radio play, so all their reaction is visual, and often funnier than the jokes themselves.

Director Rachel Edwards Harvith keeps things moving as the cast segues from the lewd lines of the silly radio story to even more unlikely advertising jingles and back, and Dunbar is constantly in action. In a fun attention to detail, picketers stood outside the theater on opening night.

cagney and veatch mary and emily two

Despite the genuine, if often sophomoric humor, I found myself thinking what a waste it was for all this talent to focus on something so nearly devoid of redeeming social value. This is n.u.f.a.n.’s first deviation into the underworld of blue humor. The ensemble mainly does brief festivals of one-acts and monologues; Barile, who was once music columnist for Chicago’s erstwhile Lerner Newspapers while I was entertainment editor there, has authored a handful of full-length plays.

The first few minutes of "200 Bullets," setting the stage for the strike substitution and introducing the characters, complete with their political biases, is so well crafted that I was sorry to see them disappear almost entirely into the rude comedy of the radio play within the play.

Other bits aren’t so well-done. While folks looking for laughs won’t be bothered, history buffs may be troubled by the script’s endless anachronisms. I won’t go into the smuttier expressions that would have been unknown in 1937, but other examples include the term "foley," which comes out of the motion-picture industry, not radio — a reference to Jack Foley (1891–1967), a pioneer in the creation of specially created sound effects for Universal Studios’ early talkies. Foley started with the 1929 "Show Boat," but he borrowed effects already created by radio soundmen; and the allusion wasn’t used beyond Universal’s sound stages until the 1960s.

In other instances, faked commercial refer to PMS and credit cards. Although symptoms have been recognized for millennia, the term "pre-menstrual syndrome" was first used in the 1950s. And "charge cards," per se, weren’t developed until the 1940s. I’m quibbling, but even filthy fantasy needs consistent context.

While this harebrained comedy is definitely an adult show full of lewd language, you’d have to be fairly prudish to be offended by it. Vulgar but not vilely so, it’s a long way from, say, "The Aristocrats." Frivolous as it is, "200 Bullets" is harmless and mostly amusing.

 

Rating: ★★★

Notes: Performances are at 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Allow time to find street parking.

doctor october