The Yale Dramat, with its production of “The Full Monty,” once again asserts that no matter how much money goes into a bad play, the play will still be bad. Given the controversy surrounding the firing of director Holly-Anne Ruggiero, one might say that the Dramat encountered their second miserable director of the season — thanks to “Creation of the World.” Directorial issues aside, Hal Prince and his 21 Tony Awards could not make “The Full Monty” into anything more than “Zack and Miri Make a Porno: The Musical.” The long-windedness of the 2 1/2-hour musical that’s centered on a flimsy bar-joke “plot” — six unemployed Buffalo steelworkers deciding to strip to make money — forces the cast and crew to attempt realistic portrayals of roughly sketched archetypes and spontaneous subplots. By the end of the show, the unseen nudity feels like an organic shedding of the actor’s burden, a theatrical catharsis as Terrence McNally’s miserable script comes to a close.
Dealing with a swiss-cheese book and sharp-cheddar score, many of the actors do manage to achieve some semblance of real emotion in their roles. While Miles Jacoby’s ’11 stiff, emotionless portrayal of the ex-steel-working/strip-show-developing divorcé Jerry Lukowski fails to encourage the audience to sympathize with his “I’m gonna lose my son” angst, Matthew McCollum’s ’11 embodiment of a man seeking to preserve his marriage through spousal deception places the audience in a genuine moral dilemma. McCollum’s versatility, evidenced by his brilliant ability to shift from the skull-cracking, AIDS-spreading, commie-hating Roy Cohn in “Angels” to this meek husband with a mean Roomba in “The Full Monty,” provides a glimmer of hope that audiences may actually identify with a few of the characters. Yet the sappy father and (geriatric?) son love story often undermines the energy that McCollum and the exemplary Brennan Caldwell ’11 (the miserably awkward momma’s boy Malcolm McGregor) bring to the show.
Sadly, shallow characters are often defined merely by a smorgasbord of accents (Jacoby’s New York guido dialect) and awkwardly centered movements (like Michael Laskin’s ’12 ostensibly crippled 14-year-old.)
The brooding Buffalo steel mill set piece highlights the show’s lack of drive. Nearly every scene attempts to use the giant, emotionless set, even for the most personal moments of the play. The staging strains to remind the audience that the male characters were employed before some economic recession — that only seems to affect Buffalo steel workers — forced them to employ “desperate measures” to make money. Laughable windows drop from the fly-space, a porch-side conversation conveys an unintended image of Rapunzel in her tower, and random flats wheeled on stage attempt but fail to symbolize hiding spots in an elderly woman’s basement. Lighting designer Josh Bradford does his best to close down space and create some sense of intimacy, yet the need to fill this giant stage causes many actors to exaggerate actions and expressions for fear of being upstaged by an overbearing catwalk. Though the designer is not listed, the set still remains the work of professional Anne Goelz, who quit the show after the set was “pretty far along, structurally at least,” one cast member said in an e-mail.
One professional who stuck with the show, sound designer Alex Hawthorn, shouldn’t have. Miserable amplification of the immensely able pit orchestra leaves them sounding like a canned high school jazz band played through the grimy stereo of a 1986 Yugo. Yet the tinniness of the orchestra’s sound still manages to overwhelm the gorgeous vocals of Emily Jenda ’10 (who plays the sex-starved wife, Georgie Bukatinsky), and even Caldwell’s bright tenor.
Unfortunately, many of the talented undergraduates that assisted the dismissed professionals have been thrown into leadership positions, forced to complete the visions of their former superiors. Thus, the technical shortcomings of the production should by no means be blamed on the student techies.
Wrappin’ up ‘Monty’
The cold air in the University Theater would have you believe that things are just dandy, as Dramat members sitting in the audience fill the space with forced laughter before the actors themselves forcefully rush the aisles to “pump up” the audience for the PG-13 striptease. The beautifully choreographed show closer “Let it Go” merely serves to highlight the fact that while the characters may be shedding their insecurities with this striptease, it’s hard for college students to “Let it go, let it go, loose it up, yeah, let it go,” for if the light board operator misses her cue, Mommy and friends might be seeing the full monty.