The Performant: A pox upon’t

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The Coen Brothers meet The Bard in Much Ado About Lebrowski

The best parodies are born from admiration for the targeted subject, be they the tortured plot twists of Spaceballs, the foppish mop-tops of The Rutles, or the beleaguered hero’s quest of Monty Python’s The Holy Grail. In a swoop guaranteed to appeal to worshippers of high and low culture alike, the Primitive Screwheads’ remount of last year’s hit mash-up Much Ado About Lebrowski manages to pay homage to one of the most-produced playwrights in the English language (ye olde Billy Shakespeare) and a pair of our most intriguing modern filmmakers (the Coen Brothers) in one borderline-blasphemous production, with enough in jokes and innuendo from both to keep aficionados of either on their toes. 

Lines from plays such as The Taming of the Shrew and Macbeth pepper the tortured syntax of the SoCal-meets-soliloquy text while characters from Raising Arizona and songs from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou mix effortlessly in with the endless “drinks of Russia White” and nihilist antics. 

Admittedly more closely calibrated to the many ludicrous tropes of the Coen Brothers’ film than those of Much Ado About Nothing, the Screwheads’ version begins with the appearance of three minstrels (John Carr, Paul Trask, and Sam Chase) who lead the room in a rousing rendition of “Ring of Fire” before launching into “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”, straight from the movie soundtrack. A fetching chorus line (Tara Navarro, Sarah Leight, Audra Wolfmann, and Suzanne Taylor) briefly set the scene before the Dude, henceforth dubbed “the Knave,” Geoffrey Lebowski (Alfred Muller) is hauled to the stage by two thugs (Karl Schackne and Omeid Far) who dunk his head in the commode -- strategically located in the lap of a guy in the front row. From that point, no-one in the oddience is safe, the invasion of “space personal” a tried-and-true Primitive Screwheads tradition. 

Without a budget for much in the way of special effects (or props, or set...) the show very much relies on the merits of its actors, most of whom ably play multiple roles in the confused comedy of errors that transpires. Muller portrays “the Knave” with just the right blend of apathy and outrage, and his bowling buddies Sir Walter and Sir Daniel are hilariously inhabited by Steve Bologna and Omied Far (“Shut the firk up, Daniel!”). 

Inflatable beach balls rolled down the center aisle serving as the makeshift bowling lane, and a gigantic wooden sword as Sir Willaim’s weapon of choice. Dream sequences of giant bowling pins, Viking helmets, and an inexplicable pink unicorn are perhaps less visually psychedelic but no less hilarious than the ones from the movie, and the obvious willingness of the oddience to suspend disbelief and play along, partly assisted by rounds from the inexpensive bar, makes The Big Lebrowski as much a participatory event as spectator sport. And while “a knave by any other name would abide just as well,” you’d be hard-pressed to find any as up to the challenge as those who call the Primitive Screwheads family. Of course that’s just, forsooth, my opinion, man. 

 

Through June 25

 Fri-Sun 8 p.m., $20-25

Cellspace

2050 Bryant, SF

(415) 648-7562

www.primitivescrewheads.com/2011

 

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