The Screwball Comedy of Today

Slapstick dialogue, witty one-liners and controversial romance; a sex comedy without the sex

Michael Fenner and Amanda Osborne tackle their love issues | Photo: Reinhard Reidinger

When Screwball comedy became famous in the 1930’s, it opened a new chapter for theater. It created a female character rarely seen in the history of Western entertainment, one that dominates men and challenges the concept of maleness. It introduced unlikely situations between characters and brought in a fast-paced dialogue never before seen. These comedies revolved around relationships, marriage, remarriage or even re-remarriage and, as film critic Andrew Sarris defined it, they were and still are “sex comedies without the sex.”

The European premiere of A Capital Affair at Vienna’s English Theatre brought forward every aspect of this Screwball definition. One might even say that it was an homage to the genre made popular over 70 years ago.

In fact, that was most likely playwright Rich Orloff’s intention as the majority of his full-length, one-acts and shorts are of a comedic nature.

A romantic comedy without a doubt, the play also brings important moral issues to the surface. The plot involves an attractive, slightly older movie star (or a “cougar” in today’s lingo) and her reformed alcoholic film star ex-husband twice over as they attempt to co-star in the Broadway production of Hedda Gabler. Throw in a young and sexy female director and an exceptionally right wing senator and things get complicated.

Add a shy, lovelorn personal secretary and a controversial art photographer, both who happen to be gay, and the circumstances become even messier.

As the director’s note plainly put it, “In a world ruled by political correctness, do we not have the freedom to choose whom we love and to freely express ourselves through art?” In the end, the characters of the play answered the question. It was a unanimous “Yes, we do.” With the exception of the senator of course.

Along the way, witty dialogue and smart one-liners provided tons of laughs. Romance was in the air, whether between senators and actresses, actors and directors, photographers and personal assistants, or a combination of the above. There were even some slightly startling scenes, like the swapping of spit between the introverted personal assistant and his exuberant artist counterpart. Yes, it was bound to happen, but the heavy silence in the audience suggested that some still can’t quite handle the idea of homosexuality.

The only true weakness of the play, in all honesty, was the inconsistency of the accents. All but one of the actors hailed from England and it showed. The attempt at an American accent produced a variety of intonation from BBC English, to mid-western, to southern, all within the dialogue coming out of one person’s mouth. It didn’t affect the quality of drama, really, but it was distracting. Oh, and the actor who played the senator went for a cheap, but admittedly convincing George W. Bush impression. If I had closed my eyes, I would have sworn it was W. himself.  But come on, not all right wing politicians sound like the former Texan President.

In all, though, it was a great night of theater in Vienna. You can’t help but leave this play feeling warm and fuzzy; it’s that kind of a feel-good humor. And just as in the Screwball comedies of the 30’s, the girl gets her man, the wealthy get what’s coming to them and narrow-mindedness and intolerance are trampled into the dust.

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