Even this ridiculously winning assembly of Broadway board-trotters could not save it. The latest edition of Villain: DeBlanks was shooting blanks last night.
Billed as a “fill-in-the-blanks diversion”, this long-running series at The Triad is essentially an elaborate party game. The cast circulates among the audience (for a very long time, as they enjoy the wisely required adult beverages) asking for a verb, an adverb, a noun. These complete their individual scripts for a loopy little murder mystery, in this case set in outer space. The fun, theoretically, consists of the absurdly talented cast of veteran Broadway actors battling their way through a sort of staged reading, dropping in the audience-supplied sexual double-entendres, non-sequiturs and, thanks to one table, bits of Yiddish.
Good party atmosphere, fantastic guests, not a great party. If only the material were fantastically clever, or the set up were ingenious. Maybe on some nights it seems to be. But almost any sort of game other than this would have been more entertaining. It is indeed a treat to see what Broadway talents are like close up, inventing on their feet, as it were. Marc Kudisch (Tony nominee for 9-to-5) is the standout, for sheer ballsy comedic charisma, minimally tethered stylewise to anything actually scripted. Brenda Braxton (Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Dreamgirls, Chicago) also the show’s presenter, while a supremely entertaining performer, is not a great cold reader and sadly, as the central character Captain Zabitsh, periodically steers the proceedings onto the space shoals. She seemed unclear where we were heading much of the time and compensated with a totally random–but very spirited–Dominican accent. Kevin Moon Loh (The King & I and the upcoming SpongeBob musical) belted his lines comically in an unspecific Asian accent. Tony winner Randy Graff (City of Angels, Laughter on the 23rd Floor) gave us her Russian accent, even after the script specified her character was a cockney robot. That’s kind of the way it goes. If only there had been more time for sheer in-the-moment play–maybe lightly structured improv–this basically great idea of sharing a loose night with the gifted and funny of Broadway could have come to comedic fruition.
The saving grace of the evening for us was “local media guest” Michael Reidel, drama critic for The New York Post and co-host of CUNY-TV’s Theater Talk (required viewing for Broadway theater nerds). He comes in to interview the cast during an unnecessary audience vote count related to the whodunnit aspect of the evening. Sharper, more genial, more probing interviewing there could not be. Enjoying Michael tease out the backstage stories about Mandy Patinkin, Eartha Kitt, flailing out-of-town tryouts and such was worth the price of admission alone and earned this evening its bump up from two stars. And he autographed my copy of his Broadway history Razzle Dazzle to boot!
The main proceedings though just deliver more empathetic discomfort than actual laughs. Yes, random sex words blurted in public make you laugh when you’re drinking. But then anything does.