Thursday, May 30, 2024

If You Ask Me:“Masters of Puppets”

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Legacy Theatre in Branford

By Tom Holehan
Connecticut Critics Circle

Legacy Theatre Opens World Premiere

It may have been when a crash test dummy, dressed as a Jewish writer complete with yarmulke called Goldfarb, was rolled onto the set via an office desk chair that my jaw may have hit the floor.  This incident was a definite low among many during “Masters of Puppets”, the bizarre and defiantly off-the-charts new play at the Legacy Theatre. Laurence Davis’ behind-the-scenes look at pro wrestling is a world premiere for the Branford theatre company.

Billed as “a no holds barred look at the dirty underbelly of professional wrestling”, “Masters of Puppets” seems to be loosely based on the scandalous World Wrestling Entertainment Empire run by Vince McMahon and his wife, Linda.  The play also deals with the unsuccessful U.S. Senate run by Linda in Connecticut.  Davis, using a pseudonym probably for legal reasons, has decided to write a satirical dramatic comedy with jarring shifts in tone.  He appears to set his play in the real world until “Goldfarb” is wheeled out and everyone talks to him as though he were alive.  Basically it’s hard to be satirical about a subject (pro wrestling) that is already a parody of itself.  The laughs here rely a lot on foul language or one-liners like when someone notes to Goldfarb, “You’re no dummy!”  WWE or WTF?

With a script this unwieldly and awkward, it would be difficult for any actor to come out unscathed.  Kurt Fuller and Amanda Detmer, playing the McMahon characters here called Victor and Delia Kragston, give their all too undeserving dialogue but never convince us they are on board with the drama.

As a pair of wrestlers at the end of their careers, Michael Bobenhausen and Joshua Heggie don’t fare much better nor does Dana Ashbrook as an empty suit for the network.  Michael Hogan, as Victor’s assistant, has moments of originality especially early on when he gives a seat-of-his-pants wrestling pitch to the network rep. But then he’s saddled with a tedious monologue in the second act that finds the character coked-up and conflicted about his new role as a hit-man. None of this remotely works as drama, comedy or satire.

Once again the MVP at Legacy is scenic and lighting designer Jamie Burnett who provides several modular settings that cover a lot of territory with bursts of lighting that perfectly captures the sleazy wrestling world.  It must also be noted that at only its second public performance these set changes were handled expertly by an ace stage crew.  Director Gabe McKinley gets credit for their efforts.  But not much more.

I will always encourage and applaud any theatre company willing to host original plays.  “Masters of Puppets”, however, is one that needed at least three more workshops before being body slammed onto an unsuspecting public.

“Masters of Puppets” continues at the Legacy Theatre, 128 Thimble Islands Road in Branford through June 11th.   For further information and ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 203.315.1901 or visit: www.legacytheatrect.org.

Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company.  He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com.  His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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