You Still Can't by Ron Reed

Dates and Venue 15 May – 13 June 2009 Wed-Sat 8pm, Sat matinees 2pm | Pacific Theatre

Reviewer Ed Farolan

When you try to do a sequel to a classic comedy such as You Can't Take It With You, you fall into a trap. You just can't. You can't do a sequel that is as funny as the original, and I'm afraid Playwright/Director Ron Reed has fallen into this trap.

Reed has admitted in his programme notes that he's better off writing serious plays, and I could see from his attempt at writing comedy that he really isn't good at it. A comedy should be light, and many of the scenes are dark and heavy, to the point of being melodramatically tragic. Take for example the whole political tirade against Nixon and the Republicans, and the biblical insinuations of Pharisean hypocrisy when Grandpa Tony (Glen Pinchin) moralises about the righteousness and legalistic attitude of R. Milhouse (Philip Miguel). Then you have Sky (Katherine Gauthier) spitting out anti-war sentiments. Are we watching a comedy here or is this political propaganda going back to the hippie times?

I also got confused about the time period. Is there a time warp here? Are we in the 21st century hearing the Beatles, Jazz, Beatniks? But let's go back to the dialogues... is this 20th or 21st century linggo that's being used? I found the punch lines weak because of the linggo used. I heard a few laughs from the audience, but this was because of the "eccentricities" in costumes, in character, in an attempt to be funny, slapstick- style, but not because of the dialogues.

I also found the play too long. Two intermissions? Why? I understand if this is a 3-hour play, but why have intermissions every 30 minutes or so? The play, in retrospect, was what Shakespeare referred to as "much ado about nothing". There were meaningless dialogues, too much politicking with even a Russian character, an Orthodox priest coming into the picture, references to Perestroika and Glasnost--just a whole mish-mash of meaningless characters and movement. You talk about too many cooks in the kitchen; I refer to this play as too many ingredients in the broth.

From the technical point of view, I admire Reed for all the costume changes, all the props, the smoke effects (that was probably the only part in the play I enjoyed) where the mistaken identity technique was used, a necessary element in the commedia dell'arte, the predecessor of all modern comedies. Another lighting technique that I didn't find quite effective was dimming the lights in the last act for a prolonged period while soft jazz (Miles Davies?) was playing in the background. This almost put me to sleep. Maybe for a little bit in the beginning this could be done for effect, but this dim mood lighting shouldn't go on and on for an extended period. I understand the intention -- it was dimmed to give contrast to the lighting of the theme park model, but even then, this approach backlashed, from an audience's point of view.

There were a few stellar performances. I found Debra Sears funny: the way she dressed, the way she talked, good timing for punch lines. She got laughs from the audience. I was disappointed with the main character, Glen Pinchin. He's a good actor but when you give him weak lines, no matter how good an actor is, he won't shine. I also felt that Philip Miguel was miscast as Milhouse. Why get an Asian actor to play a Caucasian role?

In general, as I mentioned at the offstart, a sequel to a classic like this should not have even been attempted, unless the same comedic Jewish authors who wrote this play 60 years ago, or comparable Jewish comedic playwrights like Neil Simon who are comfortable with that certain kind of Jewish humour-- they're the ones qualified to write this type of comedy.

© 2009 Ed Farolan