VOLUME 2, ISSUE 51 | December 18–24, 2003
Barrow Street Theatre Greenwich House
27 Barrow St. at 7th Ave.
Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 5:30,
9:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.
$19.89-$40, 212 868 4444
I attended a taping of the “Jerry Springer Show” in Chicago a few years ago, back when fistfights weren’t censored. Punches were thrown, legs scissored through the air, bellies were bumped. The topic? “I’m Cheating On My Sister.”
It was stupid, a little scary, and utterly thrilling.
A similar delight, but on a much less electrifying level, is found on stage in “Road House,” a spoof based on the cornball 1989 film of the same name.
The show, a sloppy blend of rambunctious theatricality and cheeky comedy, is described in production notes as “a deconstructed” version of the film. Patrick Swayze starred as a renowned bouncer named Dalton, who is hired to clean up a small-town dive bar, called the Double Deuce, only to get caught up in dirty local politics and, of course, fall in love.
The show’s B-movie appeal is perhaps best explained in the show’s full title: “Road House: The Stage Version Of The Cinema Classic That Starred Patrick Swayze, Except This One Stars Taimak From the 80s Cult Classic ‘The Last Dragon’ Wearing A Blonde Mullet Wig.”
The threadbare story is hard to follow, a misstep that caused numerous moments of silence from an often bored-looking audience. But narrative doesn’t matter much in this self-described “fightsical,” a label that appropriately describes a show that flatly rejects the label camp.
Instead of breaking into song at key emotional moments, the characters break into brawls. The actors leap onstage from a trampoline at the foot of the stage, charge from the wings, dart down the aisles, throw dummies off the balcony, and generally turn the theater into a circus-like free-for-all as they recreate the film’s ridiculously macho story.
For an added touch of realness, foley artists create sound effects—punches, body blows, scream—live off-stage. With each blow that lands on a chin, you hear the sharp crack of a leather belt. It lends a heart-racing authenticity to the chaos on stage. The foley artists also creatively integrate the conventions of film and the immediacy of theater by using a video camera to shoot live action on a miniature set of the Double Deuce.
The feed is simultaneously projected onto a huge screen located house right, providing the audience with footage of a car speeding down a dusty road, or a house bursting into flames, giving the show a cinematic quality that’s as unique a storytelling device as anything you’ve ever seen outside a Cineplex.
There is an undercurrent of homoeroticism present, thanks to the comically deranged performance of Giuseppe Agostaro as a deranged, scooter-riding magician who falls, ever so slyly, for Dalton. But blink and you’ll miss it.
As much fun as it is, the show is unaided by the wooden acting of Taimak Guarriello, a seventh degree black belt and personal trainer who should stick to pursuits of the body rather than the stage.
Still, Guarriello’s kicks are impressive and his finely-tuned, often shirtless body—including a totally necessary glimpse of butt—gets lots of display, which may be enough of a selling point for less discriminating audiences.
The rest of the cast is energetic and enthusiastic about all the jumping around, hitting, and tumbling they’re required to perform. Guarriello’s fight choreography is surprisingly complex, and the cast handles it with adequate precision and much gusto.
But overall, the actors lack the acting and improvisational skills needed to turn the play into anything other than a study in pratfalls. Sharper direction and actors better equipped to handle self-parodying material would make this show stronger and funnier.
“Road House” has moved Off-Broadway after a sold-out four-week run at Off-Off-Broadway’s La Tea, where it received some of the most encouraging reviews of the year. It will be interesting to see if it can find an audience in a larger house with increased prices—top tickets are $40—and high expectations.
The show most likely will appeal to fans of the movie (there are apparently quite a few, as evidenced by the knowing laughter at otherwise unfunny moments), 80s fanatics (music, hair, and clothes of the decade are everywhere), and WWF aficionados (the company should do some much-needed outreach to this underserved demographic).
Hey, if “Jerry Springer the Opera” can ring up boffo box office, who says this scrappy show can’t do the same?