Avenue Theatre

My great-aunt Bertha, may she rest in peace, couldn’t tell a joke to save her life. “Why did the chicken get to the other side?” she’d say, scrunching setup and punch line together; “How did Tarzan know the elephants’ footprints were in the Jell-O?”

Even when great-aunt Bertha got the joke right there was always something wrong with the way she told it. She’d get distracted, her voice would be too flat, she’d pause at the wrong moment. So her jokes always ended the same way, in an awkward silence.

Avenue Theatre’s comedy revue Pigs Dance suffers from the same problem. If you strung together all the honestly funny moments you might have two minutes worth of material. Unfortunately the show runs about 90 minutes.

When a show fails it’s usually possible to point to the one aspect of the production that drags everything else down. This time, however, every element in the show–the script, the actors, the direction–plays a part in the overall failure. To begin with, Kenneth Joe Spivey’s remarkably uneven script, written several years ago for his Houston-based theater company, Dreem Kats, may have seemed funny in Texas (where Pigs Dance was, in fact, something of a late-night cult hit). But up here in the 20th century, sketches based on the premise that all gay men are natural hairdressers or that all women would kill to be a baton twirler don’t seem worthy of a polite smile, much less a guffaw or two.

Not all of the humor in Spivey’s revue depends on discredited stereotypes. Sometimes Spivey sinks lower. There’s the sketch in which a necrophilic mortician tells her friend that a local society lioness died wearing “the biggest strapped dildo you’ve ever seen.” There’s a smarmy, straining-to-be-poignant scene that has a shy young woman admitting to the man she’s interested in that she has “tested positive.”

Most annoying of all are those scenes that slavishly imitate better-known (and funnier) bits from Monty Python, such as the one in which a fish with a man’s head sings a silly song.

But Spivey’s script just might have worked if director Dennis Carl had assembled a cast of comic actors of the caliber of, say, Metraform or Cardiff Giant. Instead, Carl presents a fairly green non-Equity cast that doesn’t have the slightest idea how to do comedy. They commit every sin against comedy imaginable. They act silly, gesture wildly, make funny faces. They shout when they shouldn’t, bellow when a shout would do. The actors who get the most laughs out of Spivey’s flawed material (Danit Ben-Ari, Christopher McGowan, and, in two cameo roles, Dennis Carl himself) are the ones with the sense not to try to show us how funny they are.

It’s hard to believe that 9 of 11 actors could turn in performances this awful without the help of an incompetent director. And Carl must shoulder more of the blame for allowing Gail Cox to create such outrageously bad costumes, such as the silly pair of too-short plaid pants someone wears for no particular reason (except to look weird). The clothes add another layer of vulgarity to a show already too broad, noisy, and annoying for its own good.