Edward Streeter, Joey Arena, Jenna Bain, Kenn Parks and
Christie Troxell in Cliffnotes of Insanity. Photo – Emily Browne.
Cliffnotes of Insanity: The Princess Bride in 30 Minutes
By Ray Robinson
Directed by Martin French & JoAnne Sweeny
Reviewed by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
The Alley Theater has lately adopted The Princess Bride as something of a mascot, having used the cult movie as the basis of an annual fundraiser for the past two years, which in turn gave birth to this new entry in the trend of highly accelerated lampoons of popular culture mainstays.
Although the curtain time is 8 p.m., Cliffnotes of Insanity would seem to belong in the late night series of Flash Gordon and Commander Cody improvisations that are staples of The Alley lineup. The difference is a solid script by Ray Robinson that provides structure and a more disciplined ensemble that sticks to business, with just enough ad-libbing to conjure an air of the unexpected.
It also repeats the gimmick of recruiting a cast member from the audience to play a character – in this instance, the villainous Prince Humperdinck. The “volunteers” were actually more like “draftees” for opening night, but good fun was the result and nobody got hurt as emcee Joey Arena kept the preamble audition process moving at a brisk pace.
The script builds slowly at first, so that the 30-minute finish time seems a long shot. But this careful approach pays off, and the abbreviation is accomplished through a self-aware series of gags in which the audience is repeatedly reminded that this is a silly business. Missing is the breakneck, shot-out-of-a-cannon, manic energy of other similar shows – like Star Wars in 60 Minutes or Less – so this Princess Bride, oxymoronically, is allowed to breath a bit in half the time.
The aforementioned Mr. Arena also plays the Grandfather who tells the tale with easy gruff charm and pops up several times as a Greek chorus to urge things along. Jenna Bain is a commanding presence as the P.A. who prods the volunteer Humperdinck along, who this night was a game, if slightly sheepish, Jordan Diebold. Edward Streeter is almost age-appropriate as the sick boy who hears the tale, and made for a functional but tame Miracle Max. Kenn Parks was a funny Westley and managed a fair approximation of Carey Elwes’ fey British accent; while Christie Troxell endured the least interesting role of Buttercup, who is basically pulled and prodded through the action without real purpose. As if out of frustration in playing so passive a character, Ms. Troxell jumps into the brief but outrageous role of Miracle Max’s wife with a vengeance, injecting a jolt of ferocious comic energy just where it is needed.
Daniel Smith has fun with the dual roles of villains: the scheming Vizzini and the purely evil Rugen, also known as the six-fingered man; and Alan Canon fights through a wig somewhat more absurd than Mandy Pantinkin’s to render the movie’s most famous line as Inigo Montoya. Jimi Fowler was a good Fezzik (“Does anybody want a peanut?”) and, in a different role, suffered one of the most difficult gags of the night with aplomb, perfectly milking the effect of a face full of talcum powder.
Directors Martin French and JoAnne Sweeny have done a good job keeping this a tight production that doesn’t settle for a fast pace to engage the audience. By including some incongruous references and poking fun at The Alley Theater itself, Cliffnotes of Insanity is smart, easily accessible and entirely winning.
Cliffnotes of Insanity: The Princess Bride in 30 Minutes
Fridays and Saturdays in November 2013
Tickets $10
All shows at 8 p.m.
The Alley Theater
1205 East Washington Street
Louisville, KY 40202as