Friday, September 10, 2004

Voltage flickers in 'Power Failure'

'Power Failure' a dark farce

By Joseph McDonough
Enquirer contributor

If there's such a thing as a shockingly dark, mysterious farce, then Larry Gelbart's Power Failure is it.

This 1990 comedy from the co-creator of the television series M*A*S*H is itself an update on Arthur Schnitzler's 1900 play La Ronde - which was notorious for its time.

In both plays, a 10-scene cycle is formed, centering mostly on sex. One of the lusty partners from the first scene moves on to a new partner in the second scene, who then appears in the third scene and so forth until the 10th scene reintroduces us back to one of our original characters.

In New Edgecliff Theatre's production of Power Failure, director Elizabeth A. Harris and her cast understand Gelbart's emphasis on the corrupting nature of power in our society and how sex can be viewed as both an outlet and a metaphor for this corruption.

We meet a death row killer concerned with what Hollywood actor will portray him in the movie version of his crime. There's a creepy, whacked-out FBI agent, a crooked businessman ready to rat out his own family, and an ambitious army general on the take.

You get the idea. Every character here is a variation on hypocrisy and greed.

What was missing from this production at Wednesday night's public preview was much of the necessary comic intensity to make this kind of over-the-top satire resonate.

Harris keeps her cast (Bob Allen, Aretta Baumgartner, Josh Beshears, Christine Dye, Jeff Groh, Prent Hallenbeck and Chris Kramer) moving through the script, but for the most part, the timing wasn't there yet.

A play like Power Failure purposely offers caricatures rather than full characterizations and several of the performances could benefit from being more broadly played.

Standing out, however, are Baumgartner as a delightfully perky wife (who is also a hooker on the side), and Groh as a fidgeting minister who peppers every line with sexual innuendo.

While the themes of the play are probably as relevant today as ever, there are early '90s references (William Casey, King Hussein, Ferdinand Marcos) that date it - a danger for satire.

Power Failure runs through Sept. 26 at New Edgecliff Theatre, at the Performance Gallery, 3900 Eastern Ave., (888) 588-0137.

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