nytheatre.com review by Fred Backus
August 15, 2004
It is with the self-proclaimed goal of “assaulting our senses” that Spurn opened to a packed crowd at the Soho Playhouse. For better or for worse, this group apparently keeps its promises. Spurn—a series of comic sketches created and written by Ian Hemenway, Sang Kim, and Neil Trivedi—is apparently in its fifth incarnation under the direction of John Ficarra (Scalpel, FringeNYC 2003). With glib courage, the obviously talented cast consisting of Eric Cross, Lara Jane Dunatov, Ross A. McIntyre, Tom Moglia, Megan Pearson, and Jennifer Spragg throws itself into the task at hand, relentlessly driving home the point that we are all miserable and pathetic, inviting us to laugh at our folly.
Spurn has no interest in lifting us out of what it sees as the septic tank of our lives. Instead, it seems intent on dunking our heads in it over and over again until we start to drink. The whole program, interspersed by audio tracks of vapid television commercials, seems to amount to some form of binge therapy, with the purported result of us seeing in the mirror how we truly are. It is an interesting approach, but one which I can’t help but take with a grain of salt. While it may try to spurn pop culture, this production is steeped in it. These junkies may hate their heroin, but they are clearly addicted.
Unfortunately, the fifteen comic sketches are remarkably similar in structure. The set-up is invariably a perversion of one or more social values, with the comic twist invariably degrading it further, usually resorting to some sort of cheap sexual reference that is intended to shock. The result is the same joke over and over again dressed in slightly different clothing. By the end of the show, I may not have seen every specific turn-around coming, but I had a general idea of where each sketch would end up, ultimately killing the potential for real surprise and humor. Nor does Spurn possess the audacity to shock and awe one’s sensibilities. No individual gag was bold or surprising enough to make my jaw drop. Instead, I found my sensibilities slowly and steadily chipped away at and numbed, creating the unpleasant feeling of sinking into a pool of cultural slime.
There was certainly a large portion of the audience that was right with the show until the bitter end, and I had to admire the tireless energy of the Spurn ensemble. But for me, any impulse towards laughter had vanished long before the final sketch. It was replaced instead by the desire to brush my teeth.