The Factory Theater at Prop Thtr. By Stacie Barra. Directed by Timothy C. Amos. With Laura McKenzie, Barra, Corrbette Pasko, Cheryl Roy, Anthony Tournis. Running time: 1hr 25mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Dan Jakes
CBS and Chuck Lorre's gentle-humor empire notwithstanding, multi-camera sitcoms have largely gone the way of movie review shows and The Weather Channel: once ubiquitous television staples that became outmoded with audiences consuming media in different, increasingly sophisticated ways. The one place they seem to be riding it out the best, oddly, is the stage—if the frequency of ’80s– and ’90s-style prime-time sitcom parodies were a usable indication of what was actually on TV, you'd think laugh tracks still punctuated every punchline. Not unlike infomercials and buzz-in game shows in sketch comedy, they're on the way to becoming comments on a form that exists little elsewhere than its own parody.
In Stacie Barra's one-act girlfriend comedy—which, to be fair, is less a straight spoof than a perhaps influenced-to-a-fault sendup—the bid for relevance is "Bridesmaids meets Breaking Bad." Caroline (Laura McKenzie), a recently laid-off corporate-minded mother, struggles to make ends meet while raising her daughter amongst a competitive and judgmental community of parents. With the help of her velour-tracksuit–and–Bluetooth-wearing megamom friend Holly (Barra)—she has a blog!—and confidante Margo (Corrbette Pasko), Caroline sets out to make things work.
A sinister opportunity presents itself when an eccentric elderly neighbor, Edith (Cheryl Roy), passes away, ostensibly from her own special, addictive "baking powder" after giving the remainder of her supply to her friend in need. Against all warning signs, Caroline uses the product in a cake ball sale and, bingo, crack cocaine is a hit.
It's easy to see where this is going, even if it stumbles and falls short long before it gets there. For such a campy, obvious setup, there's little delivery on the "danger, frosting and manslaughter" the show is supposedly about, and most of the comedy centers instead on the friends' fraught journey to evade a friendly detective investigating the baking accident.
It's a level of restraint I haven't often seen from Factory Theater, and it's refreshing to see a different take, but if there's ever a premise that deserved to spiral out of hand, it's crack cake balls. The self-serious take on the plot—there's a lot of underdeveloped earnest thoughts on parenting and today's economy—does little to mask the fact this is essentially a one-joke premise. Light chuckles and plot holes snowball until the ending, which is a deflating copout by its own standard. A highlight, though, is Pasko—even in a world of tepid absurdity, she takes some of the groans out of the groaners.