One of the first things I wrote for Playlist was an essay declaring my love of bad cinema and wondering why that appreciation didn’t spill over into theater. One of my theories, if I may be so gauche as to quote myself, was that “it’s one thing to sit at home or in a movie theater marveling anonymously at the missteps of artists who will never know the difference. It’s quite another to watch a disaster unfold in real time. For all but the most sociopathic among us, watching someone’s noblest ambitions die onstage is a painful thing.”
I don’t know if the folks around me at Wednesday’s 10pm performance of The Television Will Not Be Revolutionized were genuine sociopaths, but it was pretty evident that at least a quarter of the dozen-strong audience at the Rarig Xperimental was there to laugh at the show, not with it. It’s a strange situation – on the one hand, I was not enjoying what I was seeing on stage in the least. The show is a loose collection of scatological commercial parodies, broad comedy sketches about topics like Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and airport security, and writer/director Jennifer Amber Marie Neverdahl’s self-proclaimed “far-center” political rants, with a jarringly straightforward interview with a real-life activist wedged in near the end. Fumbled lines, prop malfunctions and dead air abound. It’s sort of like someone adapted your buddy who’s always talking about moving to Portland’s 2012 Facebook feed into a stage production.
On the other hand, it’s tough for me to listen to some asshole braying sardonically at every misstep without me feeling some contrarian sympathy for the folks on stage. Every derisive hoot made me want to root for the next sketch to be a satirical masterpiece that would put these smug pricks in their place. But when I stopped to think about it, that was a rather hypocritical urge on my part. After all, I’d come to the theater specifically seeking a bad play. I’d read through the litany of zero-star reviews on the Fringe site – half of them written by people who claimed to have walked out before the show was over – and thought anything that provoked that much venom from Minnesotans had to be worth a look. It wasn’t like I’d pedaled over to the Rarig with benevolent intentions, so wasn’t I just as big a jerk as the hecklers?
Maybe so, but I’d like to at least offer a bit of a defense. To quote myself again, I don’t watch bad, zero-budget movies because I enjoy mocking them; I watch them because they’re often “alive with the kind of passionate, intensely personal vision that seldom gets a chance to shine through in more professional productions.” There’s some of that at play in The Television Will Not Be Revolutionized - this is clearly a work of passion on Neverdahl’s part, and she’s not afraid to put her beliefs on display for public observation, even ridicule. I appreciate that courage, but when you’re dealing this overtly in politics and comedy, the bar is set higher. If the audience doesn’t find your jokes funny or your points insightful, there’s just not much left to grab onto. I didn’t come to the Rarig looking to bury this show. I came hoping to find something to praise about it.
I did come away with one grace note: When the lights came up at the end of the show, one of the actors peered into the seats and deadpanned, “Hey, nobody left!” That charming bit of self-deprecation actually sent me out of the theater with a smile on my face.