The Loo Life

Samuel Beckett Goes to the Potty

Bathroom humor, literally. When the lights go up on Do You Come Here Often?, stocky English clowns Sean Foley and Hamish McColl, who call themselves the Right Size, are in a spacious john playing characters named Kevin Kevin and David Seymore. Upstage center is a white toilet with a tank and a pull chain; upstage right and left, respectively, are a low chest of drawers and a corner shower with an institutional-green curtain; downstage right is a pink plastic hamper.

Not an especially inviting landscape, but more hospitable than, say, the barren turf with leafless tree and rock that Waiting for Godot's Vladimir and Estragon wander around in. An apt allusion, incidentally, since Do You Come Here Often?, written and directed by Jozef Houben, is best thumbnailed as Samuel Beckett's play reimagined by Monty Python.

Kevin, shambolic in a windbreaker, and Seymore, shambolic in tails, have ostensibly been occupying the shabbily cheerful public venue for as much as a month and for no reason they can figure out. They impart this information to each other as well as to the audience, since they claim to have mastered the pesky ability to "pop out" from that fourth wall. Once they've established the initial time frame, they spend the next 90 minutes-supposedly 15 years-attempting to entertain themselves while outfoxing whatever "dark forces" have put them where they are.

Foley and McColl: john boys
photo: Hugo Glendinning
Foley and McColl: john boys

There may be a point to all of this, and it might have to do with the Houben-Foley- McColl take on today's trendy newsmagazine topic: male bonding. When Kevin and Seymore are finally liberated, it seems to be because they've come to an understanding about what they can contribute to each other's life. The message, though, is vague and perhaps isn't being delivered at all. More likely, Do You Come Here Often? is an exponent of late-'90s post-post-existentialist thought: silliness predominates.

Foley and McColl are silly all right, in an altogether amiable manner. Like countless tandem comics who've preceded them, one (round-faced, smiley McColl) plays smarter than the other (oval-faced, perplexed Foley). Also like many of their predecessors, the dumber one is often tripping up the smarter-or banging him on the head and body with a large, unwieldy door. As they try to untie the ropes that aren't really binding them and play games and trade non sequiturs and squeeze a rubber duck and sing a song or two and come out from behind the shower curtain wearing tacky and increasingly long beards to signify time passing, they're engaging. Ditto when they edge across the stage in lockstep and when Seymore in a hat with a hammer perched on a tall, wobbly wire stalks Kevin in a hat with an egg perched on a tall, wobbly wire.

But hard as it is to resist Foley and McColl, it can be done. Stage silliness has to be inspired silliness. If there's no story line driving comic action-if the comic action is entirely an end in itself-then every beat has to top or at least match what's preceded it. That doesn't happen here. Foley banging McColl on the head once with a slab of wood is funny (though funnier still when Laurel and Hardy executed the routine), but not when repeated. There's also far too much begging the audience to participate-browbeating patrons, no matter what good sports they are, by now feels older than the millennium.

The show's deficiencies are more Houben's problem than Foley's or McColl's. (That's if, indeed, they're merely actors here and not abetting improvisers.) The two performers are a pleasure to be with, but not only are they stuck in a bathroom, they're too often stuck in a stale-joke past.

**Every country boasts at least one legend explaining how it came to be-and, more important, how it came to prevail over its enemies. The Battles of Coxinga is a historical play about the Japanese warrior Coxinga, who conquered China and Tartary by setting their armies against each other and then catching both factions unawares-a tactic Clausewitz probably wished he'd thought of first. Coxinga was, however, only able to pull off the glorious coup after much internecine blood-shedding as well as a healthy dose of the outer-necine kind.

At this point in theatrical history, directors with an eye toward having fun with mock epics seem to regard impassioned but outmoded myths and convoluted sagas as ideal raw material. Earlier this year Jim Simpson got a kick out of-and put a kick into-Benten Kozo, and now Cory Einbinder has adapted, directed, and choreographed fights for Donald Keene's translation of Chikamatsu Monzaemon's early-18th-century Bunraku work about shadowy Eastern hemisphere bellicosity. It's with the kung fu segments that Einbinder genuinely succeeds. Time and again he makes it look like his energetic troupe of 10 doubling actors are beating each other into pulps with weapons and swirling extremities.

Elsewhere, he's not so effective. It takes extraordinarily stylish acting (which isn't easy to hire at Lower East Side prices) to strike the right tone in complicated satirical enterprises, but those are the qualities in short supply in this laborious retelling. The Battles of Coxinga only seems as long as Peter Brook's Mahabharata.

 
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