Paint It Black

If the Midtown International Theatre Festival (MITF), now in its ninth year, is serious about making its claim as a theater festival worthy of renown, it’s going to have to considerably amp up some of its offerings. What has struck me the most about the two plays I saw this week is how stunningly mediocre they are. The Red Paintball is an innocuous play, a sketch really. In fact, it began as a 10-minute skit and was expanded into a one-hour play. At one hour, it’s too long.

In The Red Paintball, a group of students at a Catholic high school decide to play a prank on their overbearing, self-righteous and hypocritical dean of students, Maxwell Morrison, (Vincent DiGeronimo) by shooting him with a paintball gun as he passes by on his scooter. His inevitable interrogation of this group comprises the bulk of the play.

The character of Maxwell Morrison is descended from a long line of bungling, boobish authority figures that include Mr. Rooney from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Mr. Vernon from The Breakfast Club and Dean Wormer from Animal House. Mr. DiGeronimo does his best to milk the much-too-long running jokes about his attraction to Luke and his command of the sycophantic Mary (Alyssa Schroeter), to whom he tosses Hershey Kisses when he’s trying to extract information from her. He plays his over-the-top role much like Dana Carvey did as the Church Lady in Saturday Night Live. But even the Church Lady knew when to stop.

Having said that, there are a few talents in this lot. Robbie Simpson shows great physical comedic range as Luke, the resistant object of Morrison’s attention. His wide-eyed faces transmit revulsion and terror far better than do the lines he has been provided. Alexandra Heinen is stereotypically perfect as Norma Spiegel, Morrison’s apathetic but wise secretary who refuses to get worked up about anything. Will Szigethy as Matthew, though, is one of those canned chubby loser characters straight from a Judd Apatow film, and Mary Pasquale as girl-from-the-hood Johanna really needs to work on her gansta mannerisms and speech.

In the end, The Red Paintball is simply a bore, grinding one joke to death. We have seen all this prattle before, and it’s been done far better. The Red Paintball adds nothing to the genre. It’s the type of play that’s better slotted for the recreation room in the high school basement, or amateur improv night, with an audience of knowing family and friends. The Red Paintball is about as funny as any random episode of Head of the Class, with the same tired, predictable jokes, and appears to have been developed for the same audience.

Who vets plays like The Red Paintball? I don’t fault the novice playwrights (Alyssa and Laura Waldron) as much as I do the MITF itself, for putting this amateurish embarrassment on as a play and then inviting serious criticism. It’s like setting the poor playwrights up as clay pigeons at a skeet shooting range.

According to the play’s program, a full-length musical of this play is in the works. Perhaps The Red Paintball will find its identity as a musical; it’s not very funny as a comedy.

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