THE CRITIC John Simon once called the death of Georg Buchner at the age of 24 conclusive proof of the nonexistence of God. Now God has a chance to reestablish himself: Andy Borowitz, who as president of the Lampoon bears responsibility for On the Lam, is 21.
The Lampoon is this University's very own congeries of self-styled funnymen and second-story acrobats. Apparently, the Lampoon has decided to stop publishing their delightful in-house journal, or so we must surmise. But they have turned to the theater, and the result is On the Lam, a two-hour "comedy" revue starring Chris Clemenson, Grace Shohet, Brian McCue, and Fred Barton. Now we can get the same ten laughs we used to get in ten minutes, skimming the Lampoon during a tenure on the Porcelain Throne, spread out over a full two hours in the congenial Adams House Junior Common Room--this truly is the miracle of what the Poonies call "the living theater."
Those ten laughs are good ones, and probably worth the price of admission, which is, as the show constantly reminds us, "only a buck." Almost every scene has one good gut-buster, and some have two; cleverness sparkles in the opening "trio" and the talk show sketch, among others. Besides, the laughs are very evenly spaced out around the vast Russian steppes of tedium. And if you don't feel like laughing, there'll always be a well-orchestrated Lampoon claque there to help you along. It's amazing the way these people have learned to threw their voices, to fill a room with specious laughter--and all in the name of humor.
There is something inherently suspect about institutionalizing something as spontaneous as humor, and something even obscene in making it a sullen competition for yuks, as the Lampoon has done. The resultant brand of humor, inevitably perhaps, irritates--no, it offends. And by this I don't mean to carp on racism and sexism, although I think these elements are well in evidence in On the Lam. Rather, I mean the sort of comedy that points down, from an affected stance of intellectual or cultural superiority, lacking any sort of humanism or fellow feeling, without any hint that the Lampoon itself, and its members, might be just as amenable to satiric deflation as, say, protesters at Seabrook. I mean a comedy that picks the facile targets, the obvious cretins, the people its easy to be supercilious to. I mean a comedy that intimidates, that plays upon the massive insecurities of a Harvard audience, the palpable need to belong; laughter transmogrified from an expression of joy to an expression of nervousness, a device to identify oneself with an elite.
How can we get a harness as big as the sun? It's huge--it's more than twice as big as the earth!
Ho ho HO--if I laugh loud enough, my date, my friends, and maybe even the exalted savants of the Lampoon will know that I too know the circumference of the sun...I too have read King Lear.
The cast, for the most part, deserves such a show--one would be pressed to find three stage personalities as obnoxious as Brian McCue, Grace Shohet, and Fred Barton. With his pinched face and short catalogue of exaggerated expressions, McCue mugs like an eight-year old who wants a new tricycle; Shohet evokes Ethel Merman; Barton, the ham-handed piano player, thinks it's enough to bellow in a smug voice and grin idiotically like George Burns, jutting his prognathous jaw like a salient into the Comic Void.
Which leaves Chris Clemenson, or the real tragedy of On the Lam. Clemenson is a hugely talented actor who can trigger hysteria with any of a dozen subtle expressions or inflections. Predictably, he does not seem all that happy with his role in this show--he ends up like Olivier in any of his recent roles, desperately mugging and overacting to compensate for the script--and maybe a little resentful, a little angry with himself for getting involved in all this. Actually, it's a lot like watching Olivier host Saturday Night Live. Worse, Borowitz and his court set to cutting scenes for length (still leaving a two hour leviathan, without intermission) they cut a few of Clemenson's funnier sketches, including an exuberant parody of Harry Reasoner. The show suffers.
BUT WHAT ELSE are you going to do on a Friday night? It is, after all, only a dollar, which makes it, at worst, the cheapest two hours of punishment in Boston, There's Chris Clemenson: talent sometimes peeks its head out of the quicksand. You know you'll laugh and you know you'll sleep, and I advise you to ingest the sort of central nervous depressants that enhance both. Besides, who knows? Maybe John Simon will be there with his Luger.