STIFF: Deadly tale of mirth & woe at Fun House Theatre and Film

Fantasy Ballet: The Bad Boys of Stiff and one compliant critic corpse

Fantasy Ballet: The Bad Boy Trio of Stiff and one compliant critic corpse

Fun House Theatre’s Stiff  riddle: what’s more fun than one stiff? TWO. Bawdy bodies, a dead drunk and a corpse. Scurrilous schemes. A manic play within a play, with a deadly 9-act script, sure to kill off a critic? Add Jeff Swearingen’s dandy pack of thespian lads and lasses to the mix with their tight ensemble mojo, it’s guaranteed to put you “in the mood” for a good time. Stiff runs through August 9 in the Black Box Theatre at Plano Children’s Theatre. Do not dither over reserving seats. This will sell out fast.

Chris Rodenbaugh, Marcus Miller, Tex Patrello, Doak Campbell Rapp

Chris Rodenbaugh, Marcus Miller, Tex Patrello, Doak Campbell Rapp

I recognize that Fun House Theatre receives a substantial part of its adulation and recognition for its scaled down adaptations from the major adult canon of stage shows. I prefer Jeff Swearingen’s zany originals, like Stiff, partly because they aren’t imitating anyone else, but mostly because they suit the needs and talents of the Fun House Theatre youth acting troupe so well.

In Stiff, Fun House has another hilarious original hit on its hands, one that allows longtime players’ skills to shine and opens that floodgate to new troupe members. Stiff’s entire action takes place in a tiny Off-Off-Off, Way-Off Broadway theatre presided over by a sleazy New York City producer named Saul, played with devilish relish by Fun House leading lad Doak Campbell Rapp. His acting improves with every role he plays. In his playbill bio, Rapp thanks his New Yorker grandparents “for not losing their accents or their Brooklyn tendencies”, thus giving him living models to base his character on. He never drops the accent nor loses the skanky mannerisms appropriate to his “equal opportunistic employer” character from Brooklyn. His Saul drives every mishap with relentless, cheerful egotism. As an actor, Rapp moves at ease in his lanky frame and follows a clean artistic arc while exuding naturalistic demeanor. A duo of professional theatre wannabes round out the play’s nefarious main trio with deft comic stylings that hint at Marx Brothers’ comedy. Hulking newcomer Marcus Miller plays a befuddled, addle-pated stage director with bedraggled resignation and spot-on comic delivery. Fun House leading lad Chris Rodenbaugh plays a temperamental, utterly untalented playwright who has concocted the 9-act tragic travesty “The Blighted Heart” to inflict upon audiences and critics alike. He clings to every word he scribbled with a vengeance, or pouts in the bathroom if changes get threatened. Like Rapp he delivers a signature natural, focused performance, as cleanly motivated and delivered as many an adult professional’s. Warning: the shenanigans these two dolts get dragged into by Saul the slimy producer can trigger uncontrollable bouts of laughter. Just wait until you see what happens when they discover the notorious critic Mickey Blake (Tex Patrello) “asleep” in his theatre seat after the show has ended…. And when Mickey’s longtime college buddy, now a Hollywood impresario (newcomer Jake Allen) “drops by” to visit? Ooh-la-la. Not to mention the fantasy chorus line ballet with accompaniment: Glenn Miller Big Band Orchestra’s “In the Mood”….

Taylor Donnelson, Jaxon Beeson share licorice in "The Blighted Heart"

Taylor Donnelson, Jaxon Beeson share licorice in “The Blighted Heart”

As for “The Blighted Heart”, ahem. Woe, woe is us. The audience endures its final dismal scene in Act One and an “abridged”, if still torturous, version in Act Two. Nearly unrecognizable at first, Fun House veteran Jaxon Beeson gives what may be the finest performance of the show, playing a stupid, inflexible “method actor” who never dances close to any sort of reality, on stage or off, with saintly, gentle sincerity and perfectly orchestrated timing. It’s hard to be so good at being so bad. His is a Bob Hess or David Coffee-worthy sort of performance. It doesn’t get much better than that. It left me helpless in my seat, consumed with gales of laughter.

Laney Neumann , Jake Allen. Marielle Wyatt , Tex Patrello, Chris Rodenbaugh, Doak Campbell Rapp, Marcus Miller

Still awake during “The Blighted Heart”: Laney Neumann , Jake Allen. Marielle Wyatt , Tex Patrello, Chris Rodenbaugh, Doak Campbell Rapp, Marcus Miller

Four gorgeous lasses enliven the show, acting up a storm. Leading Fun House lass Laney Neumann exudes acquisitive diva fire as “The Blighted Heart’s” female lead, while Taylor Donnelson plays the ever hopeful, earnest Understudy with annoying, cloying suck-face abandon. Newcomer Marielle Wyatt, with a warm, expressive voice and eye-catching dynamic, matches the two Fun House veteran actresses stride for stride as the ever unpleasant, tipsy wife of the recently deceased stage critic. Fun House veteran Tess Cutillo rounds out the cast with dry wit and deadpan comic delivery (fabulous as Tamela in the Fun House hit Hello Little Human Female) .Her Janitor pulls an unspeakable coup when she auditions spontaneously for the trio of dolts with a scene from “Helen Keller”. These are memorable roles. What trouble might Saul the producer get everybody into next year? Pour yourself a stiff one, or maybe two, settle back in your seat, and get primed for Stiff.

The simple, uncluttered set design by Clare Floyd DeVries becomes a self-destructing nightmare just when it’s supposed to. Bren Rapp’s costumes make everybody look appropriately “in the biz”. Set builder Dave Tenney made it all possible with his very funny, original concept….


PERFORMANCES at 1301 Custer Rd. Plano TX 75075

Schedule of shows:

         Sunday, August 3, 2014 – 2:30 PM
         Wednesday, August 6, 2014 – 7:30 PM
         Thursday, August 7, 2014 – 7:30 PM
          Friday, August 8, 2014 – 7:30 PM
           Saturday, August 9, 2014 – 2:30 PM
           Saturday, August 9, 2014 – 7:30 PM

Suitable for ages 8 and up

2 thoughts on “STIFF: Deadly tale of mirth & woe at Fun House Theatre and Film

  1. Pingback: Best of 2014 On Stage: the view from Criticalrant | Alexandra Bonifield

  2. Pingback: STIFF in NYC: Straight Up, Texas-style | Alexandra Bonifield

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