Absurdism runs amok in Well That’s Oz, one of four plays in this year’s programme from CalArts at Venue 13. It starts with the initial scene, which opens on a fish farm in Kansas and nothing goes swimmingly thereafter.
A melodrama of imperfection
The characters are familiar and the story well known, but this distortion strips the cosy musical of its charm and replaces it with a cheerless world of perturbed anthropomorphs led by dear Dorothy (Nic Prior), who is in a state of shock and ill at ease once transported from the calm the calm of the countryside. Her only consolation seems to be found in her talking dog, Toto, and even that relationship ultimately becomes too much for her.
The idea is that during this dreary journey all must face ‘the reality of their existential struggles’. The Scarecrow (Antonia Cruz-Kent) is an optimist in this dark world, but delusional and his ramblings are of no help to his fellow travelers. The Tin Man (Ashley Sanchez) has a lumberjack’s obsession with trees but finds no love within their branches or anywhere else. The Lion (Holly Tobias) boasts glowing white teeth, but they are his only source of pride. Ultimately he has none of the qualities expected of a lion so has a profound sense of failure.
The costumes by Colin Yeo (Director/Playwright/Sound Designer) are amusing and offer a bright note amidst the lifelessness that characterises most of the production and which is most pronounced in the depressingly dull, almost monotone voices deployed for much of the dialogue. Quite what possessed anyone to think that having virtually all of it spoken with the echo effect turned on remains a mystery. It distorts the sound and ultimately becomes annoying and painful on the ear even when drowned out in the closing stages by the volume of the soundscape.
This yellow brick road does not lead to a ‘new dark comedy’ as the company had hoped, but in their other words it does prove to be more of a ‘melodrama of imperfection’.