Blow Hard

Warning: This review may contain spoilers.

By Rod Keith and Jayson McDonald
Performed by Rod Keith and Jayson McDonald and Kate Kudelka
Directed by Rod Keith and Jayson McDonald
A Rubberfunk Theatre Production
The Palace Theatre
November 30 — December 4, 2004

Art that has to be produced on a regularly set schedule can be a demanding regime, even for the disciplined. For the flighty and the lazy, the adjustment to these creative demands is a mighty struggle. This play is an excellent farce about creative inspiration, artistic partnership and the fight for originality.

The play is set in the studio of Watkins and Drummond, a pair of artistic wastrels who have hit it big as the creators of a popular bubblegum comic strip starring a cartoon boy named Chubb. However, their easy life of partying and vacations, interrupted by dashes of work, is thrown out of kilter when the daughter of their late employer, Angela Ruberman, comes to them with a far more stringent publication schedule for the strip. In the new regime, the pair find their lives and their friendship shaken to the core.

The obvious inspiration for this play is the Road movie series, starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, but the surreal tone of the story feels delightfully inspired compared to that artistically unchallenging fare. For example, although the pair works in the most inherently disposable variety of sequential art, they are feted as if they are creating novels or paintings with written reviews containing detailed artistic analysis of their three panel strips. The sheer silliness of that kind of pretension throws the idea of artistic endeavour into an insightful fun house mirror perspective. Struggling with this new environment of discipline, the pair even resort to psychic channelling sessions with Chubb while Angela has her own backup with the tough talking, no-nonsense sock puppet, Mr. Business. All of this is treated with the kind of surreal earnestness that would make Monty Python proud. However, this tone is sometimes taken too far as with the end of Act 1 where Drummond and Watkins find a way to give themselves more time to work that does not make any immediate sense. Even the beginning of Act 2 does not explain it adequately.

The performers play their roles with gleeful soul. Rod Keith gives a feel of eccentric dignity as Drummond, who has an appealing romantic air that makes Angele’s amorous moves on him believable. He’s certainly the more serious of the pair which provides an excellent counter point to Watkins’ petulance. His personal monologues are touching, describing his artistic needs and a grade school crush which gave him an anchor in humanity. Jayson McDonald has the broader role as Watkins, the writer with a stubborn immaturity and mercurial temperament who still has legitimate talent. He has own share of superb solo bits such as struggling to make a speech while racked with stage fright and telling the tale of Mr. Business’ heroic sacrifice for him. Together, the pair are an excellent comedy duo as shown when they go through complicated negotiations about opening a newspaper, only to instantly tear it up in childish wrestling. True to the Hope and Crosby tradition, the show includes a well conceived and choreographed number that the players perform with aplomb in their own unorthodox way. The climax of the piece is a coordinated double collision pratfall that is both painfully realistic looking and delightfully silly.

Kate Kudelka is a superb supporting character as the pair’s boss. Her tyrannical obnoxiousness is neatly contrasted with her romantic feelings for Drummond which makes for a fascinating ambiguity as the audience anticipates her next move. Her performance with Mr. Business is delivered with an infectious deadpan, and she presents a final surprise that brings a new level of daftness to the story.

The stagecraft of the play is simple and imaginative. The best example is the periodic projections of the Chubb comic strips that the lead characters produce. They are well drawn with a faithful recreation of the typical content of Bazooka Joe and Double Bubble strips. In fact, they are better drawn than the typical bubblegum strip although they don’t have the eccentric, if ugly, character style of the original Bazooka Joe. With these projections, we get an entertaining and succinct illustration of the creative progress of the pair that is distinctive and fun. For instance, the projection of Watkins’ pathetic solo effort illustrates the emotional low point of the story with far more eloquence than any speech could about how far he has fallen. The rest of the stage has an appropriately grimy feel of a messy studio that two lazy cartoonists would prefer while providing more than enough space for the physical comedy and dancing. The raised doorway out is another creative touch that gives Angela’s authoritarian announcements an essential weight while giving Drummond’s reconciliation with his friend an air of blessing that lifts Watkins’ spirits.

This play is a wonderful production that takes a delightfully skewed look at art and its conflict of commerce as created by artists who truly understand creativity and its particular realities.