Fringe Festival: ‘Pun’ is trying too hard to make you laugh
By Maura Judkis
Monday, July 18, 2011
“Pun” is a play on words. Get it? Get it? Good — because “Pun: (n) a play on words” is a play that will not let you miss a punchline, like a stand-up comedian who punctuates every joke in a percussive ba-dum-chh. And these are some words on a play (ha!) that desperately wants you to believe it is clever. Depending on your tolerance for jokes like these, you may or may not agree.
It begins with the setup for a bad joke: Two words walk into a bar. They are Rational (Paul Laudiero) and Floccinaucinihilipilification (Mason O’Sullivan), the longest non-technical word in many dictionaries (it means “the action or habit of estimating something as worthless”). But Rational and Flocc, for short, are special words because they are the dictionary keywords — those words at the top of the page that let you know what will be contained within — and that gives them a privileged status.
That’s about to change, though: A new edition of the dictionary will be published soon, and the addition of words will unseat them from their eminence. Together with their friends and fellow keywords Insanity (Mark Jennings), Bull[expletive] (Chris Aldrich) and Afterthought (Tristan Griffin), and against the warnings of their enemy, Creepy (Andrew Knoche), they dream up a madcap plan to ensure that they keep their keyword status forever, or die trying.
This word play (wordplay!) has plenty of examples of such, from rebuses and charactonyms to takes on the famous “Who’s on first?” routine. In the bar, Rational and Flocc are offered special pronoun brews, a pair of beers called This and That: “This is our That lager, and that is our This lager,” says Barmaid, played by Kelly Hennessy. Other puns are real groaners, such as, “What are you, crazy?” “No, I’m Insanity!”
But beyond the incessant yuk-yukking, the Blacktop Theatre Company and playwright Aaron Fischer have something more to say about technology and the passage of time. Barmaid points out that the keywords’ pedigree is not so secure these days anyway, because most people bypass the dictionary to look up a word’s definition via search engine.
Within the world of words, things are changing as well: “Imagine that! Homophones getting married!” Rational says. “Vary is set to marry Very in February,” Flocc adds. More than just words, it’s a play about adapting to change. But to match the jokes, the acting tends to be hammy, and there’s no accounting for why the male words exhibit misogynistic tendencies.
If “Pun” weren’t so self-conscious about its wit, presenting jokes with a kind of “ta-da!” like a trained seal doing a circus trick, it would be an easier play to like — to which the folks behind “Pun” might offer the comeback that I would only like an easier play. I’ll preempt them: Zing!