Corrections or additions?
This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
October 27, 1999. All rights reserved.
New York Review: `Epic Proportions’
At the Helen Hayes Theater, a mixture of the utterly
incomprehensible, the totally inane, and the thoroughly inexplicable
is being offered in the form of "Epic Proportions." How incomprehensible
that seven producers were convinced they could make something commercial
— indeed, worthwhile — out of this slender comedy that is
nothing more than a collection of sight gags, hoary jokes, and absurd
tomfoolery about the making of a biblical epic in the 1930s. At a
top price of $65, audiences get a lot less than they bargained for.
What is inexplicable is the sheer waste of talent, including that
of the director Jerry Zaks, that has been assigned to bring some vitality
to this vapid spoof of the Cecil B. DeMille genre of film-making.
He does it. But was it worth it? Not in my estimation.
The show stars Kristin Chenoweth, the delightful, diminutive performer
with the nasal voice who won a Tony and a Drama Desk award last season
for her role as Sally in "You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown."
Chenoweth doesn’t need to hold her nose to sound that way, but you
may want to hold your nose when asked about this show. Along with
the effervescent Chenoweth, who tries with only fleeting success to
overcompensate for her underdeveloped role, the cast of eight formidable
comedians has been left stranded on the Arizona desert, the comedy’s
locale. Here they have to cope with the comedy’s primary plight: that
it has no plot to speak of, no point to make, and no purpose in being.
More screw-loose than screwball, "Epic Proportions" would
like to give the illusion of being a fast and funny farce, but instead
relies on the most pathetic and puerile shtick as it labors from one
tiresome and redundant scene to the next. The only illusion truly
created is that of a tacky, amateurishly conceived and executed one
hour and ten minute rip-off on a takeoff.
Chenoweth plays Louise, the ditsy but determined "Director of
Atmospheric Personnel," in charge of the thousands of extras.
Among her few good lines, spoken to the audience, as if to her cast
of extras: "It may take me a little while to get to know all your
names, but you can always come to me. I’m in the little blue tent
next to the Sphinx of Antioch, and my flap is always open." Among
the supernumeraries are two local yokels, the Bennet brothers, who
are both in love with Louise.
Alan Tudyk plays Benny Bennet, a rather timid aspiring actor who finds
himself positioned among the more upbraided and abused extras, particularly
while filming the 10 plagues of Egypt. Meanwhile Jeremy Davidson plays
the hunkier Phil, who becomes the film’s technical director when he
proves how well he can maneuver the crowds, a talent he picked up
from his days in the high school marching band. Suddenly a force,
Phil makes Louise the film’s ingenue and gives his brother a bit part.
But it isn’t long before Louise, who spends a lot of time chained
between two pillars, and Benny, who gets the treacherous role of slave
to the Queen of the Nile, fall in love. This, while self-absorbed
Phil turns despotic and desperate as he tries to keep the overworked
extras from revolting.
In this mirthless mix of mayhem and madness, Ruth Williamson gives
her all to the campy proceedings. For her, this means lots of eye-rolling,
mugging, and a rash of manic maneuvers designed to keep her fellow
Romans, Egyptians, and assorted biblical types played by Tom Beckett,
Ross Lehman, and Richard Ziman from completely falling on their faces.
Humorously designed for sex and sand (and a quick getaway), there
is nothing wrong with William Ivey Long’s costumes or with the deliberately
grandly scaled, but flimsy looking, settings by David Gallo. Everything
about the show appears more passe than the any telecasts we might
see of the old "Show of Shows" with Sid Caesar and Imogene
Coca, and those of Carol Burnett and gang. Frankly, many of those
classic episodes are infinitely better. They certainly offer more
sting and savvy than what has been thrust upon us in this travesty
by Larry Coen and David Crane. Coen is associate director of Boston’s
City Stage Co. where productions are renowned for their audience participation.
Perhaps Coen should begin to ask audience members to participate by
writing a decent plot for "Epic Proportions." Crane co-created
the HBO series "Dream On." And that’s what I say. H
— Simon Saltzman
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