Playwright: David Zellnik; Songs: Zellnik and Eric Svejcar. At: The New Colony at Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice Ave. Tickets: www.thenewcolony.org; $10-$20. Runs through July 20
The New Colony prides itself on creating world premieres devised via a process of actor improvisation workshops with a playwright or two who pens a final script. Sometimes the result is an acclaimed hit like 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche ( ending its extended revival run June 29 at the Chopin Theatre ), or a disappointing mishmash like the new comedy Orville and Wilbur Did It!
The premise for Orville and Wilbur Did It! is promising at it shows the behind-the-scenes misadventures of actors and a stage manager as they tour to elementary schools around the country with a not-so-great children's musical about the Wright brothers. Naturally, there's conflict of clashing artistic personalities, who hooks up with whom and some recreational drug use thrown in.
But one problem with David Zellnik's script is that he clings too much to comedy bits that were probably hilarious in the improvisation process, but are now leaden and exhausting. One scene about an actor ( Alex Grelle ) pooping his pants goes on far too long, while a recurring joke about an adopted Scottish otter by the obsessed lesbian stage manager, Jen ( Jessica London-Shields ), strains credibility at each reappearance.
Zellnik's script could also benefit from some cutting, perhaps reducing the jokes about the selfishness and stupidity of supporting actors like Melitta ( Morgan McNaught ) and Pandro ( Joey Romaine ) in favor of the conflicts between the show's leading men who play the brother aviators.
The main arguments between Zack ( Evan Linder ) and Jasper ( Kevin Stangler ) has to do with their ideas of how gay men in relationships should behave ( and of their previous attraction to each other in college ). Zack plans on marrying his jealous boyfriend, Miguel, once the tour concludes, while Jasper is more than happy to have a break from a triad relationship with older sugar daddies in favor of hooking up with guys online.
Also woefully underutilized is the aging actor character of Scraggs ( Josh Odor ), whose troubled background and past experience of being kicked around in show business could have been explored with more depth and humor to contrast with the naive ambitions of his young cast mates.
Despite the meandering story and so-so character arcs, the cast members of Orville and Wilbur Did It!, under director Andrew Hobgood, clearly do enjoy performing their material, and they do elicit plenty of laughs. They're all particularly great at performing the scenes from the overenthusiastic show within a showespecially the peppy synthesized songs penned by Zellnic and composer Eric Svejcar.
Orville and Wilbur Did It! definitely does have its comic highpoints, making you laugh at the weird foibles and oddball situations of performers on the road. But it ultimately stumbles in its overall construction, which could have been much tighter and better focused.