nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 26, 2010
Shh! comes to FringeNYC from Boston: it's a sketch show created and performed by New Exhibition Room, a troupe of young and energetic artists who previously presented this show at Boston Playwrights' Theatre. They promise, in the FringeNYC Festival Guide, "nudity, violence, adult language, and catchy tunes." They deliver on all counts; yet the show feels very much like a hodgepodge and its lack of cohesion in terms of style or subject matter ultimately make it a less satisfying hour of theatre than I was hoping for.
You'll notice that I said it was a sketch show rather than a sketch comedy show. Shh! is about one-half traditional comedy skits and one-half serious monologues and satirical performance pieces on the subject of censorship. I admire the diversity, but I kept wishing, as I watched, that the show would make up its mind. The sketches are as hit-or-miss as you expect in any collection from a young comedy group, here pushing the envelope with an entirely gratuitous striptease and another, even more gratuitous appearance by the naked Melissa Barker; there pleasingly (but fleetingly) exploiting really topical material like the recent lost-iPhone-in-a-bar semi-scandal.
The more serious-minded segments are better. There's a clever skit called "Censorship on the March" in which a superhero anthropomorphization of censorship "helps" concerned folks (for example, a woman complains about the breadth of ideas in her school system's textbooks, and "Censorship" hands her a single sheet of paper, identifying it as a new textbook from Texas). There are also a couple of monologues that feel like they're drawn from interviews with actual people about the idea of censorship and self-censorship: one is delivered by a character who is concerned that the lesbian principal in his local school is not providing enough anti-gay material to her students, while the other is a gay man who is not "out" at the office (the story he tells about the office blood drive is the most effective item in the show). This material is rich and provocative and I would have liked much more of this; indeed, I think Shh! would have achieved its worthy objective of exploring/twitting censorship in America by dispensing with the funny stuff and focusing on these compelling narratives.
The show is directed by A. Nora Long, who definitely keeps things moving quickly—absolutely nothing in the show lasts too long, which is a rare and good thing. It's written and performed by Melissa Barker, Nathaniel Grundy, Hannah Husband, Chuong Pham, Alejandro Simoes, and Christina Watka (with additional material by Theo Goodell, Dawn Simmons, and Long). All six actors are pleasant and capable performers, with Simoes the standout, especially when he sings and/or plays the guitar, which he does very skillfully.
Shh! ultimately didn't have much new to say to me about the subject of censorship, and I suspect such message as it contains will simply be preaching to the choir in FringeNYC. But it's not an unentertaining hour in the theatre. And it will be interesting to see how these young artists' careers evolve.