Sometimes a mediocre play jumps to life when you assemble an extraordinary cast with a primo director.
Christopher Chen’s “MUTT” at Impact Theatre means to be sardonic and poignant. Some of the scenes are funny and quirky and insightful, but it is overwritten without much change of mood.
The idea is that the Repubs need a multi-racial candidate to win back the votes. They introduce a new term to this Caucasian audience member: “hapa,” i.e., a person of mixed race, seemingly with a necessary Asian component. They vett a half-Chinese, half Caucasian Congressman played by Matt Lai—an actor who has the extraordinary ability of naturalness, whose every move and line seems as if it just occurred to him, which is my functional definition of extraordinary acting, the kind you see in the cinema. Lai’s Congressman character doesn’t pass the Conservatives’ test because he wants to be himself and not-so-moldable, so they find a former soldier-hero in the stolid-acting Michael Uv Kelley, whose character is an even more mixed race and whatever-they-want him-to-be malleable.
Lai also does a turn as a Chris Matthews character in a blond wig which shows his range, and comic bent.
The cast is rounded with some dauntingly good character actors playing multiple parts: Patricia Austin is a chameleon who goes from matronly to absolute hottie with the change of a wig; Marilet Martinez has comic timing which is worth the price of admission; Lawrence Radecker can go from dignified politico to ridiculous lecher on a dime, the result of which is comically explosive; and Michelle Tagarow’s character as a maker-of-presidents who dominates the proceedings as architect-in-charge.
Director Evren Odcikin brought out the comedy and the poignancy with a difficult episodic play in this band-box space. His design was emblematically impressive, with a banner of stars and stripes painted across the walls and transparent ultra-modern spare table and chairs.
Many of the scenes are laugh-worthy, and do make a point about race and politics, but, for this critic, the subplot of a serial killer and the denouement undid the work that went before by sending it into Absurd Land which undercuts the message. It’s about 90 minutes worth of play extended to two hours. "MUTT" could rock, but it need a re-write of this element.
It’s worth the small price of admission, it’s the most fun theatre around, and not all audience members have gray hair—which is refreshing for us that do.
MUTT by Christopher Chen
Directed by Evren Odcikin
Co-production of Impact Theatre and Ferocious Lotus
Plays through June 8