Some tasks are hard to finish.
Such is the nutshell-assessment of Theatre Jugend’s production of Trey Parker’s “Orgazmo,” the porn-set comedy based on his and “South Park” co-founder Matt Stone’s 1997 film. According to program notes, this is the very first production of any such stage adaptation, director Drew McCabe and producers having worked “closely with the film’s producer to convert the script.”
This is an impressive feat, considering the pedigree of the story’s creators, who since this early project, went on to skewer Mormons again in the 2011 Tony Award-winning Best Musical “The Book of Mormon”; American culture and politics in “Team America: World Police”; and of course, 17 seasons of the insanely successful “South Park” television show. Two young, raunchy nerds have conquered American media, to not only accolades and awards, but respect from the comedy establishment; they are among today’s most heralded satirists.
But with Theater Jugend’s revisiting of this early work, we see that they, like any creative geniuses, had to earn their seat at the big-boy’s table. The script here is certainly funny, and occasionally hilarious, but the gut-punching wit we expect from this duo is missing, as is the uncomfortable intimacy of the film’s low-budget confinement.
McCabe’s direction has difficulties translating this cinematic script. On the Alt Theatre stage, he has lots of room with which to play, but makes the mistake in using too much of it. The deep, shoeboxlike stage is almost entirely utilized, placing much too much action upstage, a problem with both sound and sightlines.
Some actors are projecting as if on a proscenium, talking to the lobby, as it were, and some engage with each other as if in a real-life room, or on location for film. It’s difficult to hear, especially Jeffrey Coyle, not seedy enough as the seedier-than-most porn director Maxxx Orbison. Some scenes take place closer to the audience’s stadium seats, but there’s so much space in between, which causes lots of running and hustling by the cast and crew to get situated in transitions. It’s exhausting to watch, and must be more exhausting to do.
These inefficiencies of space and blocking make it a clunky, disorganized time, which is not just a nuisance but also a disservice to the script’s comedic momentum. What should be an insanely unfolded, irrational storyline – a wide-eyed Mormon missionary (Matthew Crehan Higgins) joins a shoddy porn studio’s latest film, which casts him as Orgazmo, a superhero of skill and purposes not appropriate for explanation at the moment – is a lot of smiling, some “huh” head-turns, and a few boisterous laughs. Unfortunately we have to work harder than some of the cast at making those laughs happen.
Higgins is a fantastic fit for his role as Joe Young/Orgazmo. He is youthful, impressionable, sincere and morally naïve – he says yes to Orbison’s lucrative offer only because he needs to pay for his impending wedding to Lisa (the hilariously sweet Jenny Marie McCabe). But when the film becomes so popular, tarnishing Joe’s anonymity and conscience, he is lured back for a full franchise. Orbison’s enticement is financially sound, one could argue, but what will this do to Joe’s green soul? What would it do to anyone’s life, Mormon or not?
This question does not get explored quite as deeply as I would have expected. After all, Parker and Stone’s satire of small-town politics and big-box consumerism is a mainstay of “South Park’s” storylines, and in many of their other narratives. This is not McCabe or Theater Jugend’s misstep, necessarily, though a more animated innate eye-wink here and a decapitating head-roll there could have helped to land these absurd characters into deeper commentary.
McCabe’s cast is largely talented here. Marc Sacco is a great straight man as Orgazmo’s sidekick; Nick Lama nails the porn star’s megalomania; Eric Mowery is deliciously insane as yet another “actor”; Jamie Nablo and Sara Marioles-Mitch have great timing as buxom Saffi and Trixi, respectively; D.P. Morris pulls off both a great stagehand and Garth Algar; and Lindsay Salamone does the unbelievable with a bouncing wig. Coyle is not quite disgusting enough, and yet pulls off a grossness you wouldn’t get near for a million dollars; his projection needs more command, though, and a better attempt at true character delving. Like much of this venture, it’s almost there, but not quite.
3 stars (Out of four)
When: 8 p.m. today through March 1
Where: ALT Theatre, 255 Great Arrow Ave.
Tickets: $12 to $15