Players not up to their usual par

Now, is that Mike Yerxa as Marilyn Manson or Busy from Step by Step?
Now, is that Mike Yerxa as Marilyn Manson or Busy from Step by Step?
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Players cast displays wide breadth of emotion.
Players cast displays wide breadth of emotion.
Photo: 

Call it a sociological experiment. An aspiring reporter attempts to breach the drunken notoriety of a Queen’s Players show . . . sans alcohol. Could such a feat be accomplished? Would I still laugh at the dirty jokes? Would I finally be able to dance atop the flimsy chairs without tumbling to an embarrassing and painful end?

‘Tween Eggs and Wham!, the Summer 2004 run of Queen’s Players, commenced on Wednesday, June 16 with an impressive first act. The band, the bizarrely-named Street Lights!: People, were tight, lively, and endearingly dressed in nightgowns. An ensemble medley of temperature-inspired tunes, which included “The Heat is On” and “Summer in the City,” seemed to capture the zeitgeist of the packed, sticky, non-air-conditioned house at Clark Hall Pub perfectly. The performance was energetic, the choreography clever, the singing strong.

Unfortunately, that feeling did not last. By the time the second act began, with the cast plodding through an uninspired a-capella cover of Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” for a distracted and indifferent crowd, I had ordered my second pint of Kilkenny. For, while recent Players endeavors may have been strong enough to be palatable for the sober surveyor, by this point it was crystal clear that ‘Tween Eggs and Wham! was no such show.

The Summer production of Players traditionally eschews the usual episodic formula in favour of independent vignettes. This is presumably intended to showcase the random inspirations of its writers, and in the past, erratic yet generally solid scripts have allowed this concept to work. This time around, producers Andrew Johnston and Brianne Pérez opted for a different approach. The program stated that “with no director to speak of, no one to call, it was the Players who wrote and created it all.” While this interesting approach allowed for some truly clever and funny sketches, it ultimately bred a show too full of in-jokes and lacking focus and consistency.

The actors themselves were energetic, although certainly taxed by a script that demanded they play at least five or six different characters. While every Player mastered at least one impression, too many were misguided. For example, while Emma Bailey’s Nelly Furtado and Brendan Halloran’s Bob Barker were particularly well-rendered, Mike Yerxa’s Sapphic send-up of Busy from Ready or Not overstayed its welcome and Tim Daugulis’ Christopher Walken seemed redundant. We get it. He’s creepy. And it’s funny, but it’s been done. The only Player to consistently hit the mark was veteran Shamus Fynes, who effortlessly assumed the diverse personalities of Ben Mulroney, Mike Tyson, Nick Lachey, and Hal Johnston. In an extremely popular sketch, his lampoon of “HUGE!” cable car salesman Billy Fucillo, was met with rabid cheers of “I fuckin’ HATE that guy!” from at least one enthusiastic audience member. Fynes displays great potential as a sketch player, able to elevate weaker material by his presence.

The songs were performed with similar sporadic effect. There were no weak singers in the cast; however, there were no show-stoppers like past Players Elena Juatco or Joan Smith, either. Despite a lack of musical mastery, two particular performances did stand out for sheer entertainment value. Flanked by back-up singers providing perfect camp harmonies, Veronica Graham revealed strong vocal chops in her send-up of “The Shoop-Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss).” Hamming it up and invoking the mini-dressed spirit of Cher, Graham illustrated the kind of performances Players do best: cheesy, kitsch, and sung well.

The crowd, overwhelmingly drunk and rowdy, all seemed to love the show. In this respect, ‘Tween Eggs and Wham! was a resounding success. Had its clever and polished predecessor (March’s Paranoid Aykroyd, easily the best Players show in recent memory) not proven that toilet humour and silly covers can be crowd-pleasingly and artistically executed, I would have departed Clark Hall Pub content. Instead, I left hot, mildly buzzed, and, for the first time ever in my tenure as a Players connoisseur, bored—and sobriety was not to blame.

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