Playwright: Nicky Silver. At: Benevolent Theatre at Angel Island, 731 W. Sheridan Rd. Tickets: 773-871-0442 or www.benevolenttheatre.com; $15-$20. Runs through March 15
Comedy often needs a crowd to succeed. So it's unfair to review Benevolent Theatre's production of Fit to be Tied on a cold night where the audience barely outnumbers the actors onstage.
But even with a packed house, laughter probably would have been scarce since this 1996 off-Broadway comedy by Nicky Silver is such a mess, with its ill plotting and patience-testing characters. Just why the young Benevolent Theatre felt now was the time to revive Fit to be Tied is ponderous.
Fit to be Tied largely focuses on its two main narrators, who suggest that what you're about to see will all end in notorious New York tabloid scandal ( Silver is such a tease, because it doesn't ). There's the wealthy and depressed Arloc ( Michael Palmenderi ) who has just found out that his ex-lover, Anthony, has likely died from AIDS. And then there's his selfish and money-grubbing alcoholic mother, Nessa ( Lily Sauvage ), who behaves like an annoying Auntie Mame.
Arloc falls so head over heels in lust with the angel-costumed actor Boyd ( David Keohane ) that he pays him to be tied up for his first B&D experimentation session. Unfortunately, they're interrupted by Nessa who has decided that very night to leave her health-obsessed husband, Carl ( Gary Saipe ), and move in with her son.
The farcical possibilities of this first-act situation are ruined by Silver since he drags it all out over a month's time through the lowered-stakes second act. And any poignancy that Silver wants to milk from Arloc's delayed opening of an envelope revealing his HIV status is constantly overshadowed by the jabbering and weird behavior of the other characters who constantly get on his nerves ( and, likely, those of the audience ).
Making Fit to be Tied funny would be an uphill battle for anyone, even if you had comedy pros working at the top of their game. ( The 1996 original notably had Jean Smart of Designing Women fame playing Nessa. ) Alas, director Sean Murphy and his Fit to be Tied company are not up to the task because their timing isn't honed properly and their dialogue inflections are often off. ( They're also sometimes hard to hear because of the venue's incessantly loud HVAC fan that regularly switches on and off throughout the show. )
But you can't really fault the actors too much because Fit to be Tied has very little to recommend as a comedy with poignant bits. Perhaps Benevolent Theatre wanted to do an AIDS-tinged piece to remind audiences of how manic and scared people could get when the disease was a likely death sentence. But if that's the case, the company would have been better off reviving a far-better AIDS-influenced comedy like Paul Rudnick's Jeffrey.