Los Angeles Theater Review: ABSOLUTELY FILTHY (Sacred Fools Theatre)

by Mia Bonadonna on January 28, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

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A RAUCHNY REUNION FOR THE PEANUTS GANG

Set at Charlie Brown’s funeral in modern-day Los Angeles, Brendan Hunt’s raunchy parody, Absolutely Filthy, is an admirably smutty comedy which imagines a dysfunctional reunion of the Peanuts gang, now all grown-up, cocksure, and full of middle-age disgruntlement. Under the fluid comedic direction of Jeremy Aldridge at Sacred Fools, Absolutely Filthy offers a few decent performances, clever staging elements, lots of hula hooping to dubstep, and a healthy dose of unabashed full-frontal nudity.

Mia Bonadonna’s Stage and Cinema review of ABSOLUTELY FILTHY at Sacred FoolsPeanuts ran as an internationally syndicated comic strip for fifty years. Both inked and written by Charles Schulz, it is lauded for transcending mainstream norms to present social commentary on issues such as racial segregation, feminism, war, and equality channeled through child-aged characters – an innocuously conceived concept designed to buttress 1950s consumers. Through daily newspaper appearances and stints on the stage and screen, Peanuts has undoubtedly imprinted itself on more than a half-century’s worth of Americans, including Hunt. The playwright notes that he was inspired by Pig-Pen’s brilliant final words in the iconic comic strip: “Well, when I left home this morning, I was pretty clean. Sort of… relatively… borderline… absolutely filthy.”

Mia Bonadonna’s Stage and Cinema review of ABSOLUTELY FILTHY at Sacred FoolsOur glimpse into the adult lives of the Peanuts gang is through the eyes of Pig-Pen, who has grown up to be a dark humored, shamelessly unstable, and introspective homeless wanderer. Hunt’s affection for the comic strip is evidenced not only in the fact that Absolutely Filthy is an homage, but in the carefully constructed empathy that he fosters for the characters. Pig-Pen’s poverty could have been treated with less apathy, but Hunt tells a good story, cloaking dramatic, wholly sad plot twists in a palatable abundance of funny crassness.

Mia Bonadonna’s Stage and Cinema review of ABSOLUTELY FILTHY at Sacred FoolsThe narrative jumps between present day at Charlie’s funeral to flashbacks of Pig-Pen’s college years to stream of consciousness conversations with a snarky rendering of Jesus Christ. Hunt smartly injects subtle postmodern discourse into his play by pitting pure hedonism against dour sentimentality.  In the world of Absolutely Filthy, Snoopy makes a creatively licensed appearance as a sexy, German-speaking, flying ghost; while Pig-Pen, Charlie, Franklin, and Linus actively struggle to retain their humanity despite personal battles with mortality, mental illness, homelessness, and alcoholism. Lucy, Schroeder, Patty, and Marcie all grow up to be assholes (naturally) and as it turns out, Sally Brown has an unrequited love for dust-covered, constantly wiggling man-junk.

Mia Bonadonna’s Stage and Cinema review of ABSOLUTELY FILTHY at Sacred FoolsIn addition to penning the script, Hunt leads the Absolutely Filthy cast as the central character, The Mess (Pig-Pen), which he plays with endearing humor and an undercurrent of subversive tort. The Mess’s permanent dust cloud is cleverly conveyed by a sludge-colored hula hoop that Hunt impressively twirls around his waist (sometimes in nothing but tattered black socks) for 95 percent of the production.

Many of the cast is merely saying lines rather than convincingly acting, but there are some supporting cast stand outs. KJ Middlebrooks takes a precise and unmitigated approach to the role of His Honor (Franklin) that decisively acts as a likeable and grounding force throughout the production.  Audience favorite Amir Levi gives the funniest performance of the play as Jesus Christ. Levi’s deliciously catty and memorable interpretation of deity literally draws spontaneous and well-deserved cheers from the crowd. Finally, as The Little Brother (Linus), Robbie Winston’s spot-on impression of Linus van Pelt is skillfully bolstered by refined emotive timing, genuine understanding, and delicate yearning.

Mia Bonadonna’s Stage and Cinema review of ABSOLUTELY FILTHY at Sacred FoolsDirector Aldridge combs Absolutely Filthy into an unbroken stream of coherent shifts through time and place that keep the audience continuously laughing and efficiently delighted. Charlie’s wake had a single groan-worthy cameo-character gimmick that we could have lived without, but otherwise, the production is brimming with lively staging elements and unexpected surprises. Aldridge impressively orchestrates scene changes that are just as entertaining as the actual narrative. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz gives an edgy, colorfully up-cycled tone to the set that is aesthetically magnetic.

Devoid of Schulz’s signature innocence and simplicity, Absolutely Filthy is certainly not an authorized use of the Peanuts franchise, but this reviewer laughed enough to hope that the cease-and-desist letter demons stay far, far away from this Sacred Fools run.

Mia Bonadonna’s Stage and Cinema review of ABSOLUTELY FILTHY at Sacred Fools

 

photos by Shaela Cook

Absolutely Filthy
Sacred Fools Theater
scheduled to end on March 10, 2012
for tickets ($20), call 310-281-8337
or visit Sacred Fools

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