Warehouse, 1019 7th St. NW
Sunday, July 18, at 4:15 p.m.
Wednesday, July 21, at 8 p.m.
Friday, July 23, at 10:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 24, at 3:30 p.m.
They Say: “Two brothers’ lives are overturned when they are asked to write the autobiography of a pop singer. Desire may lead to violence in this brooding comedy by the writer of Irish Authors Held Hostage and Jack the Ticket Ripper.”
Ian’s Take: It’s really hugely unfair to judge a piece of art relative to the author’s previous works. I say that just to warn you right off the bat, my disappointment in A Thing for Redheads may not be entirely fair. But the playwright’s entries in last year’s Fringe, the bloody funny Jack, the Ticket Ripper and the zany, Monty Python-esque Irish Authors Held Hostage set certain expectations of what this play might be like, particularly since the festival is billing it as a comedy. Thing is, it’s not really very funny, and doesn’t even seem like it’s meant to be. Morogiello obviously knows funny, but it seems like he was going for something entirely different here.
The setting is the office of a brotherly team of book editors, one of whom, Stanley, actually does the editing (and toils on his own writing on the side), while the other, Peter, runs the business. Stanley is frumpy, awkward, and has a bum leg, while his brother is a dashing ladies man. They have one bona fide genius in their stable of authors, Bobbie, an unstable redheaded Pulitzer-winner who is carrying on an affair with Peter. Into this love triangle (Stanley secretly crushes on Bobbie) walks Jessie, a vapid, fire-maned 19-year-old pop star in need of a ghostwriter for a quick and dirty fan-bilking autobiography.
It’s not that there aren’t laugh lines here. While negotiating over how much time she’ll have to spend answering questions for the writer of her book, Peter lasciviously tells her he hopes she’s not a girl who’s afraid of commitment. “Just ask my ex-boyfriends,” she fires back, unaware of the irony. But this is a tragedy with some funny lines, not a dark comedy. Everyone here is damaged, starting with Peter, who, unable to father children of his own, seeks immortality via a mention in one of Bobbie’s books. Failing that, he seduces Jessie into writing a song about him. Okay, so the song is, admittedly pretty hilarious, particularly when lip-synced by Jessie in the office, describing the music video she imagines herself in as she goes.
Bobbie herself is a mess, a suicidal drunk, the usual caricature of literary genius. Stanley, pining after her, hides his feelings behind his grumpy misanthropy. Jessie is supposed to be the shallow one here, the dumb pop star and make no mistake, she is shallow, and readily admits it but what’s harder to swallow is how shallow Bobbie is, too. Not only is she oblivious to Stanley’s obvious feelings, but she lashes out at him for being an ugly slob in ways that just don’t ring true for her character. Even an addiction to the abuse doled out by his much hotter brother doesn’t really adequately explain her attachment to Peter, and her casual contempt for Stanley seems completely without context.
There’s really no one very likeable in this story, and the sporadic humor isn’t enough to hold one’s interest throughout the show. Morogiello might have some interesting things to say about the manipulative nature of the entertainment industry, the permanence of art, or how awful people can be to one another, but his points are muddled in a play that never fully engages, whether through humor or emotion.
See It If: Miserable people making each other more miserable sounds like fun.
Skip It If: You prefer to avoid disappointing works by playwrights you otherwise like.