Monday, April 12, 2010

"A History of Human Stupidity": ☼ ☼

What a title! "A History of Human Stupidity" would draw anyone to the theater, just to see what the show is all about. In this case, you sit downstairs in a pizza parlor, eat pizza, drink beer, and see five women from Berkeley's Rough and Tumble theater company cut up on stage. It's a wild ride, sometimes informative and always amusing.

Chicago's Andy Bayiates wrote the show as a continuing piece from his "A 60 Minute History of Humankind" which appeared on a NBC reality show "Starting Over." The show is now 90 minutes long and though divided into three Acts, it feels like a One Act-er with a Prelude.

In Act One an ape slugs another ape. The second ape learns to slug back. Stupidity is defined: "A good idea gone bad."

(Later on, we get a better definition: "Stupidity may be genius in its larval form.")

In Act Two, the show really starts. We get a history of the entire world, beginning with Greece and ending with the War on Terrorism. In Act Three we are presented with a celebrity roast featuring history's five stupidist people.

Some of it works -- particularly Louise Chegwidden (The Patriot) and Charisse Loriaux's (Smartypants) duet during the segment on The Rise of Fascism.

Other standouts are Chegwidden's Nixon during the roast, and the company's excellent slap-shtick during the segments on Greece and Rome. (Other company members, all terrific performers, are Eowyn Mader (The Radical), Betsy Picart (The Fool) and Carolyn Doyle (The Critic, to whom this critic was particularly attracted. Are we really all that, well, critical?).

Some of it doesn't work so well but that may come down to personal taste. The celebrity roast is a brilliant idea, but to our ears it would be a lot funnier if people other than 20th Century tyrants had been chosen. (The show is supposed to be more about stupidity than politics, right? Does Pol Pot really give anyone a belly laugh?)

At its best "A History of Human Stupidity" is wordy and funny. But sometimes it's just wordy. These are smart people. They'll tighten it up.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "A History of Human Stupidty" Two Stars. The ensemble and director Cliff Mayotte earn one star for managing not to step on each other's feet with so much choreography in such a small space. A second star is for the show's audacity. You have to love a company who will define stupidity by having Richard Nixon as a celebrity host.

"A History of Human Stupidity"
La Val's Subterranean
1834 Euclid Ave., Berkeley
Through April 25

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