Farces are deceptive creatures. They seem like froth, but they're among the more difficult dramatic genres to write and perform.
At the Vagabonds, where John Morogiello's "Keeping It Aloft" is receiving its premiere as part of the Baltimore Playwrights Festival, there were enough opening-night glitches to upset the delicate mechanism of any farce.
But Morogiello's script also has problems. These begin with the characters, who are so downright stupid that it's difficult to get caught up in the spiraling action. And, while inept can be funny, stupid is just, well, stupid.
For instance, we're supposed to believe that a self-made industrialist has enough smarts to have built a fortune. But when he learns he needs a kidney transplant, he removes the kidneys from a corpse himself -- with a butter knife, no less -- and expects to have them transplanted into his own body. He's totally unaware of blood or tissue typing, not to mention the condition of the organs, sterile operating procedures, etc., etc.
Meanwhile, his wife, Marion -- the play's protagonist -- doesn't even realize he's ill, much less that he needs a kidney transplant. Granted, she knows he's been threatening suicide, but she thinks the reason is selfishness, not frustration over being unable to locate a kidney donor.
The main thrust of the plot, however, is a case of mistaken identity.
At the beginning of the play Marion, who is white, hires a black ex-con as a gardener in the belief that this socially conscious gesture will restore meaning to her dull existence.
She doesn't know that the gardener has an identical twin -- a successful psychiatrist, who shows up in the second act.
Along the way, there's altogether too much gunplay, characters running around in boxer shorts, and shenanigans involving a corpse wrapped in a rug, which keeps toppling out of a closet.
The physical demands of these high jinks, however, prove too much for the cast.
XTC Among those who labor valiantly under Mike Moran's direction are Diane D'Aiutolo (though she looks too young to play Marion, who's supposed to be an aging baby boomer) and especially Stephen P. Collins as a cop whose every word and gesture seem right out of a TV cop show -- with good reason; starring on one of these programs turns out to be his life's ambition.
In addition, as Marion's industrialist husband, Craig A. Peddicord has the profile and demeanor of a Thurber cartoon character, which suits the genre nicely.
Playwright Morogiello, who also had a play in last year's festival and is the recipient of a Kennedy Center Fellowship of the Americas theater grant, has some talent for one-liners, but he seems to be attempting something deeper here.
"If this were fiction, it could be seen as an allegory for the treatment of black men by the entire white race, but thank God this is theater," the cop says. That quip, however, appears to be exactly what Morogiello is trying to do. The trouble is, he makes his point early on, then spends the rest of the play building up to a restatement of it.
The outcome is that while "Keeping It Aloft" doesn't sink irrevocably, it never becomes airborne, either.
'Keeping It Aloft'
Where: Vagabond Players, 806 S. Broadway
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Through (( Aug. 18
Call: (410) 563-9135
Pub Date: 8/08/96