By Jordan Wright (Photo/Koko Lanham)
In a departure from the dance-filled, laser-lit and sexy productions I’ve come to expect from Synetic Theater, along comes “Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog).”
I suppose I wasn’t ready for it, though I watched a snippet of a trailer on their website and knew that the cast was all male — another anomaly.
The first exercise for this reviewer was looking for the show’s existentialistic message. I’d been told there was one, though you shouldn’t let it get in the way of the hilarity.
The merriment gets off to a terrific start in set designer Lisi Stoessel’s version of a 19th century English drawing room replete with chaise longue, Japanese screen and quaint settee. Here three down-at-the-heels high society bachelors with an aversion to real work and a keen sense of the leisure life mull over the state of their humdrum lives. To remedy their ennui, the friends fantasize about camping in the great outdoors and decide to take a 10-day boating adventure along the Thames.
Jerome (Tom Story), a self-proclaimed hypochondriac, passes the time perusing medical journals, imagining he has every disease in the book, beginning with the letter A.
“I have everything but housekeeper’s knees,” he proudly announces to Harris (Rob Jansen).
These blasé fops seize every opportunity to proclaim their views on the state of the world and their dissatisfaction with it. The kicker is in the actors’ to-the-manor-born delivery — utterly deadpan and screamingly sardonic.
But, alas, these scions of British society are reduced to sharing rented rooms. And though only one of them, George (Tim Getman), has a job, at least Jerome has a dog to occupy his time — a fox terrier named Montmorency (Alex Mills) — whose thoughts are translated for us by his master.
Despite learning of fatalities on the river and hearing ominous weather reports, they nevertheless decide to push off. Projections designer Shane O’Loughlin effectively uses images projected onto the five-fold screen to reflect the changing landscape as the men’s journey gets underway.
Their patter is straight out of the P. G. Wodehouse School of English Humor and Wit, though occasionally Jerome waxes poetic about nature.
“Night is like Mother,” Jerome asserts in one of his tender moments.
Metaphysics aside, there are countless hilarious scenes. One hapless antic generally leads to another. When it is discovered that there is no mustard for their cold meat, a riot nearly ensues.
“I grow restless when I want a thing,” Jerome explains.
In another display of either incompetence or ignorance, the trio tries to trick a teapot into boiling by pretending to ignore it. If that doesn’t leave you chuckling, picture this: While on the boat, which they appear to have appropriated, they realize they forgot to pack a can opener for a tin of pineapple. Oh, the humanity.
After trying to open it with a knife, scissors and even an umbrella (which, of course, they remembered to bring), they begin to go mad from hunger, threatening murder and mayhem upon each other. At this point the dog unceremoniously catches a rat and offers it up, challenging them to plop it into their crazy concoction of an Irish stew. Absurdity promptly ensues.
Alex Mills as the dog is adorable. His brilliant capturing of a canine’s personality (he studied footage of Jack Russell terriers while others were rehearsing their lines) and excellent pantomime performance proves to be nothing short of endearing.
“Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)” runs through June 8 at Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington. For tickets and information call 1-866-811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.