Actress Olivia Dodd says potty humor is “timeless.” So is accusing your significant other of sleeping with someone else.
“It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book,” Dodd said at a theatre KAPOW rehearsal last week.
She sported a pink French Restoration wig that looked like a strawberry soft-served ice cream cone. When she walked, the curls bounced.
“But at the same time, it can’t be played for laughs. It’s got to come from a place of sincerity,” added Gail Angellis, her voice serious, her wig like a scoop of lime sorbet.
Theatre KAPOW co-founders Carey and Matt Cahoon like to stick a few classics in every season, and this year’s winter program, Russian Roulette/Parisian Poker, has potty humor, cheating accusations and writing by two of the greats, Moliére and Chekhov. The company performs the famous writers’ short comedies the last week of February.
Though the writers are long gone — Moliére wrote during the 17th century, Chekhov at the end of the 19th — the Cahoons say the writing feels current and is still very funny. For those still hesitant, well, that’s what the wigs, silly props and Whose Line is It Anyway production set-up is for.
“We always do a comedy in February, and it seemed particularly appropriate this year considering the weather. We always feel like people want to come inside and laugh,” said Matt Cahoon, the production’s director. “A few years ago we looked at doing a season [that told] the history of comedy. … That’s when we first started looking at Chekhov, Moliére.”
The Cahoons read all Moliére’s and Chekhov’s plays this summer and narrowed the field down to those that fit theatre KAPOW’s 2014-2015 season theme: “see.”
Even though these stories are old, company members say they’re still current and hilarious.
“I think it’s surprising for people, sometimes. You’re like, Moliére, ugh!, but it’s funny. It’s what sitcoms are based on,” said Carey Cahoon. “I think a lot of people don’t realize, in particular, that Chekhov wrote these short little farces.”
People always think of Chekhov for The Seagull or Three Sisters, Carey Cahoon said in a fake dramatic voice, but the pieces they chose are funny and familiar. The humor covers but is not limited to silly people in love; hiding from bosses; the triviality of keeping up with appearances and bodily functions.
The theatre KAPOW twist
Theatre KAPOW has found great success this past year. Its February 2014 production, Penelope, won “Best Production” for community theater at the 2015 New Hampshire Theatre Awards. Matthew Cahoon and Peter Josephson won “Best Director” and “Best Actor” for the production, respectively, and Carey Cahoon won “Best Actress” for Macbeth in October.
The company has become notorious for challenging actors; in Penelope, all the cast’s men wore Speedos onstage. Their Macbeth was done with three people. This production is no different.
Come showtime, the eight actors — Gail Angellis, Neal Blaiklock, Carey Cahoon, Gina Carballo, Olivia Dodd, Mitch Fortier, Glen Grimard, Peter Josephson, and Rachael Longo — will have prepared six short plays: The Flying Doctor by Moliére; Sganarelle or The Imaginary Cuckold by Moliére; Swan Song by Chekhov; The Reluctant Tragic Hero by Chekhov; The Proposal by Chekhov; and On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco by Chekhov.
The plays range from 15 to 40 minutes, but the actors have no idea what they’ll perform each night. That, they say, will be up to the audience. (Carey Cahoon suspects they’ll have an audience member draw from a hat.) They’ll perform two to three plays each night.
“It’s stressful, but to me, it’s fun and fresh,” Carey Cahoon said.
Audience members may also choose props — at this particular rehearsal, the most distinct one in sight was a pristine birdcage — and company members hinted at audience-actor interaction and a shortened version of a Chekhov classic.
Actors like the challenge. You don’t often get to perform Chekhov or Moliére in New Hampshire.
“I’ve never seen any of it in the state of New Hampshire. I imagine that’s the case with a lot of cast members. That’s a big reason why I’m here,” Fortier said.
Added Angellis, “Theatre KAPOW sets the bar so high for New Hampshire theater. … [With theatre KAPOW] I know I’m going to get a challenge, and I know I’m going to get a good director. … It’s consistently good theater.”
As for the wigs?
“If you want to be Marge Simpson for Halloween, you know who to call,” said Carey Cahoon, gesturing to an extravagantly tall blue wig sitting on a bust. “What prompted the wigs: Moliére is French Restoration comedy. … Obviously, the colors is where we’re having fun with them. … The suggested things for purchase on my Amazon account is really, really strange, because of course, I bought those Speedos for last February. And now I’ve bought these.”
Dodd and Angellis think the wigs are whimsical and add to their characters, particularly those in The Imaginary Cuckold. Dodd’s character in the pink wig is young, in love and naive, while Angellis’s is “green with envy.” The characters are painted in “broad strokes,” said Blaiklock, and the wigs keep up with the cartoonish feel.
The comedy is difficult — timing is absolutely everything — but there’s instant gratification when you get it right.
“What’s fun about comedy is, night after night, seeing what the audience laughs at, because it can change,” Dodd said.
As seen in the February 26, 2015 issue of the Hippo.