The Peculiar Utterance of the Day: Live on Stage!
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 10, 2007
Fans of Tom X. Chao's trademark deadpan self-lacerating wit will be happy to learn that he's back in town with a new show, after a couple of years' hiatus. The Peculiar Utterance of the Day takes its title and many of its zany inspirations from Chao's latest endeavor, his daily podcast series of the same name. But its format is rooted in sketch comedy (in typical Chao fashion, the cover of the program insists that it's not a sketch show): imagine that this singular performance artist has hijacked Laugh-In or The Kids in the Hall and you'll have at least a vague idea of what this show is like.
In interwoven blackout segments, two narratives are played out. One involves a hopelessly lonely Tom X. Chao meeting up with a beautiful tall leggy blonde woman named Cynthia (Gyda Arber) on the roof of a giant dirigible. The other involves a hopelessly lonely Tom X. Chao (as a character named Starn Mark) meeting up with a beautiful tall leggy blonde scientist named Candide (Gyda Arber) on a giant spaceship. Both of these goofy sci-fi stories feature a host of eccentric supporting characters, including (in the former) a hilariously brusque Russian danseuse named Madame Zamolodchikova who is played to precise perfection by Rosalie Purvis, and (in the latter) a hairy, rotund, oversexed ship's captain (Danny Bowes) and a Yarbrikkaels-ian woman (i.e., she's from the planet Yarbrikkaels) who pilots the spaceship while she's unconscious. Eventually Starn steals a cubist guitar that never existed and Tom and Cynthia fall in love even while commanding enormous opposing armies to destroy each other.
Josephine Cashman, who plays the Yarbrikkaels-ian pilot, interrupts the proceedings with an effective comic monologue about the man of her dreams.
Don't worry, it's all funny. At his best, Chao the writer has one of the most deliciously off-kilter senses of humor in modern theatre, and Chao the actor (and his excellent supporting cast) know how how to put the material over for maximum impact. If Chao the director is a little unsure of his footing with this variety format, well, this is a bit of a departure for him. The Peculiar Utterance will undoubtedly gain assurance—and grow even more peculiar—as it evolves.