Halfway through a matinee performance of Wreckage-o-Rama, the woman to my right turns to me and whispers, “My 9 year old thinks this is hilarious.” And although she doesn’t add the next bit, the implication is there: Me? Not so much.
That’s the thing about Wreckage-o-Rama. When you’re 9, it probably is hilarious. Funny accents, silly wigs, crazy dancing, clumsy pratfalls — it’s the stuff fourth grade dreams are made of. All that’s missing, in fact, are a couple of fart jokes. But for a pair of adults grabbing a glass of wine across the road before enjoying a grown-up evening out? Well, Wreckage-o-Rama is certainly not the ticket.
But then again, it doesn’t claim to be. Pat Ferri, the brains behind the one-man production, is one enthusiastic entertainer, rushing around his basic stage set, wriggling into tights, stuffing himself into surprising situations, and donning silly hat after silly hat. A red clown’s nose makes frequent appearances, as does an unending series of elaborate and theatrical facial expressions. Ferri dances a lot, moves a lot, falls over a lot, and sweats a lot. It’s exhausting just to watch him.
With Ferri taking on the parts of multiple characters, there are regular costume changes, which he conducts right in front of us. At first, these are tedious in their longevity, but pretty soon all the children start chanting along with the accompanying music at Ferri’s request; after a few scenes, they’re providing the audio unprompted. Children are hams, of course, and love this sort of thing; it’s audience participation without the humiliation.
If you’ve been well into double digits for a couple of decades now, Ferri’s act is hit and miss. When Helga the masseuse warms up by doing a series of squat thrusts, it’s funny. When she does it again in the next scene, this time in preparation for cheerleading tryouts, it’s undeniably less so. A purposefully pretentious dance routine, in which a fey Ferri scatters a bag of autumn leaves, before rolling about in them and then fetching a leaf blower to clean them up, hits the mark. A long-winded scene in a disco misses it terribly. It’s impressive when Ferri rides a unicycle; it would have been even more impressive, however, had he not fallen off of it.
There’s no question that Ferri is a committed and eager performer; he’s desperate to make us laugh. “Want to see me juggle?” he seems to be asking. “You don’t find that funny? Okay, how about a cartwheel? What about some embarrassing dancing? Want me to do a German accent? That’s funny right? Watch me spin some plates!” There’s something of the eager child about him — or perhaps the children’s entertainer —a nd that must be why the kids love him. While the mothers and fathers in the audience are wearing wryly amused smiles and giggling occasionally, their prodigy just lap up Ferri’s klutziness, giving him a standing ovation and crowding the stage afterwards to shake his hand and say hello. “That! Was! Hilarious!” shouts one boy to his mom, practically bouncing out into the lobby. It’s as if Wreckage-o-Rama is packed full of sugar and artificial colorants and a whole bunch of E numbers.
Bottom line: If you go, take a small child with you and that child will love you forever. Sure, he’ll probably start smashing the best china in an attempt to spin it on his index finger, but you’ll be his favorite adult in the world. After Pat Ferri, of course.
WRECKAGE-O-RAMA • Piccolo Spoleto’s Piccolo Fringe at Theatre 99 • $15 • June 3 and 10 at 5 p.m., June 4 at 6 p.m., June 7 at 8 p.m., June 8 and 9 at 7 p.m. • American Theater, 446 King St. • 554-6060
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