Spy Gamey

A flaccid conspiracy undermines T.I.D.Y. 's talented cast.

T.I.D.Y. Through December 18 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, 216-521-2540.
Since global and national conspiracies are all the rage these days, they would seem rich territory for theatrical comedy. Indeed, if we can't laugh at the people who lie, cheat, and steal to augment their political leverage and line their pockets, what's the fun in being a powerless peon? Of course, it's incumbent upon the playwright to assemble a deft and captivating vehicle that can poke holes in pompous and arrogant governmental schemers while giving us a hero with whom we can bond.

Local playwright Eric Coble has attempted such a task in T.I.D.Y. , a world-premiere comedy now at Beck Center, and while the first act shows some promise, the second act jumps so many sharks, it feels like a water-ski show on the set of Jaws. It's a shame, too, since the uniformly fine cast is worthy of much better material.

In brief, anal-retentive Emily Danbert is the geeky inventor of a computer program for libraries that -- grab your socks -- actually provides information about every person in the United States! We are supposed to believe that this digital marvel, named after the title's acronym that stands for "Total Identity . . . something or other," is so valuable that governments are killing people to get it. It makes you wonder whether the playwright ever heard of Lexis-Nexis, credit card companies, or Google.

Never mind; we suspend disbelief and continue. Soon, Emily is being tracked by assassins, having her flat bugged by a suspicious cable guy, and meeting a mysterious phone caller in a parking garage, à la Deep Throat. In the process, Coble continually gets in his own way by drawing out irrelevant scenes and attempting running gags that don't even jog, such as Emily taking her comatose cat with her in a pet carrier wherever she goes.

This is all to prepare the way for a second act in which a) Emily learns that her mom is a hit woman with a contract on Emily; b) all the principals meet in a paintball field to discuss their various agendas; and c) an alien arrives to claim responsibility for everything (we're not kidding). By shifting styles from sly comedy-adventure to goofball silliness, the playwright abandons any hope of creating a unified work.

While director Roger Truesdell might have done more to spike this weak brew (editing some mind-numbing speeches would have helped), the actors, who generate sporadic levity in spite of the lines they've been given, are blameless. In particular, Sarah Morton is sharp and baffled as Emily, Kevin Joseph Kelly is a gas in a couple roles (particularly as a suspicious librarian), and Nicholas Koesters makes a goofily earnest boyfriend for Emily. But they are all marooned on a script that feels like an extended retread of a Get Smart episode -- with no shoe phone or cone of silence. Coble's writing, which often smacks of summer-camp skit night, manages to miss the myriad satirical targets propped up by his premise. And that's awfully D.U.M.B.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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