Cardiff Giant

There’s little question that Cardiff Giant is honestly committed to its work: improv-based collaborative plays written and performed by ensemble members. There’s also little doubt about its professionalism and attention to detail; in Dreamy, the company’s most recent production, the set is modest but inventive, the technical crew is pretty sharp, and the music (uncredited) is nearly perfect.

So what’s wrong? Well, the play.

Billed as a “fantastically dark comedy,” the script has no center. Embryonic concepts fly by, sometimes colliding, never developing or connecting. Conflicts are set up, then glossed over or resolved in patently ridiculous ways. The earnest impulse of the cast/writers to communicate something is clear, but this is still a bunch of doodles, a rough draft, an occasionally interesting but still unformed idea.

Written and performed by the men in the company, Dreamy is the story of three brothers and their demons. Scions of a family with a slightly sleazy past, the Ridge brothers are resentful of their dependence on each other for economic and emotional survival.

Al (Bob Fisher), the oldest, is a prissy mom substitute. He is, needless to say, an utter disaster compared to his late, saintly mother. Brandon (Matt Robison), the middle child, is a would-be high school football hero who’s working as a mechanic. Almost being captain of the team was the highlight of his life. And Doug (Greg Kotis), the youngest, is haunted by dreams in which disaster is imminent. In addition, he’s fucking a 16-year-old girl down at the beach where, apparently, liquor and sex are plentiful.

Perhaps Cardiff Giant’s democratic approach got in the way–it certainly looked like everybody onstage was working from a different script. Mark Netherland’s set was naturalistic, but Scott Hermes’s direction consisted of broad strokes. Fisher was unbelievably affected in his portrayal of Al, walking around on tiptoe in house slippers through the entire play. Kotis played his part like a somnambulist with occasional spasms. The laughs were few, and cheaper than they were dark.

In the end Al is revealed to have killed their father, Brandon murders his boss, and Doug hangs himself. Seemingly unable to figure out how to bring their story to a conclusion, the Cardiff Giant writers literally blow it up: they have Brandon douse the Ridge home with gasoline and set it on fire.

This may have seemed like a fantastic way out of the mess they’d created, but there were other options: Agree on a basis for this story; in other words, figure out what you’re trying to say. Or just throw it out. Earnestness isn’t enough.