Theatre Askew’s entry into The Brick’s Antidepressant Festival features an amazingly able company of actors that manages to create a memorable performance with a forgettable script. The Tale of the Good Whistleblower of Chaillot’s Caucasian Mother and Her Other Children of a Lesser Marriage Chalk Circle is an ambitious, musical attempt to meld characters and themes from Brecht, Albee, the musical Mame, Giraudoux and about a dozen other sources with an ironic tirade against the pharmaceutical industry.
Playwright Stan Richardson begins the evening fairly promisingly as we meet a delightfully droll set of family and friends dealing with the overdose of John. John is a character we never meet and find out little about because everyone in his life is amusingly and compulsively self-absorbed. Ensemble members Tim Cusack, Matt Steiner, Sara Alvarez and Brandon Uranowitz make this opening scene one of the highlights of the evening.
The dialogue in this section, and some dialogue sprinkled occasionally throughout the rest of the musical, is sparkling and sharp. But, Richardson wanders off into less impressive comedic landscapes as we get further into his labyrinthine plot.
Reverend Cindy (Joanna Parson) is awkwardly introduced as a guitar playing narrator. The unfortunate Parson valiantly tries to entertain the audience with an extended one-sided conversation with her belligerent guitar which falls depressingly flat. Debbie Troché, who is introduced as John’s Mom, tries desperately to sell an unlikable character who does strange things to an increasingly indifferent audience. Actually, that is not just for the character of Mom, poor Troché does this all night.
Reverend Cindy then begins to sing a nice ballad (written by Rachel Peters, and providing a delicious sense of fun and camp to Parson's otherwise thankless role) about the eponymous whistleblower and his mother. The origins of the evils of the big pharma industry are explored with an 1800’s apothecary, Dennis Courage (Cusak) who runs the largest “medicants” supply company in his native Chaillot and perhaps the world. He is happily giving free drugs to the rich and gouging the poor until a trio of Gods (Steiner, Alvarez and Uranowitcz) visits him and offers to sneak him into heaven if he can only give the poor a break on their rabies and syphilis treatments.
Cusack does an admirable job when called upon to perform an interpretive ballet about tortured lovers to convince the company’s board to show mercy to the poverty-stricken. Then Troché is re-introduced as “Mame Courage,” an uncomfortable meld of the mad woman of Chaillot, Mother Courage and Auntie Mame.
Troché’s character becomes the focus of an increasingly dissolving narrative. She spends long moments taking straining dumps into a large planter on stage (not really defecating, but a soundtrack of dissonant farts helps fool the ear), spouts lines like “By Saint Bab’s quim!” repeatedly, and ends up somehow living with a bear in a cave and bleating like a goat. Troché, a gifted and laudably willing performer, almost succeeds in pulling all this together (believe it or not) but the material is eventually unsalvageable.
Steiner, Alvarez and Uranowitz manage to spin feces-covered straw into gold several times with their appearances as Oopse, Krapp and Fuckk – Dennis’ triplet step-siblings who speak only in unison. There is really no weak link in the fine ensemble of actors. The script, however, lets them down so often, the main dramatic question in the play becomes, “How did they convince these actors to do this?”
The Tale of the Good Whistleblower’s . . . might entertain fans of bizarre scatological humor and the winning cast and inventive musical score are endearing. But though it is certainly a wild ride and an utterly unique journey, it doesn’t really take you any place you want to go.