Playwright Robin Swicord’s Criminal Minds, which opened last week as the second offering in the Gypsy Theatre’s 2003 season, should be arrested for forging three counterfeit acts disguised as a play. From the opening chorus of “Happy Days Are Here Again,” until the final—er—(you have to be there) “curtain,” there are few intended laughs and a growing desire to see the state troopers burst into the Florida setting and do their duty on behalf of theatre-goers everywhere.
There has been no shortage of stories about the vagaries of the human mind in recent months. In Christopher Nolan’s non-linear thriller, Memento, the hero sustains an acquired brain injury while defending his wife during a fatal rape, left with an impairment that wipes his short-term memory clean every fifteen minutes. The only chance he has of keeping up with reality is to write himself hundreds of “Post It” notes—but the plot twists beautifully when we discover him changing their text to suit his current version of the unfolding truth.
The storyline for the directorial film début of Montréaler Ziad Touma’s just released, Saved by the Belles (cross-reference below), kicks off with a nasty bump to the head of the buff young hero, rendering him an amnesiac. Fortunately, two angst-filled Drag Queens just happen by and, in a true act of kindness, take him under their feathers and assist the re-discovery of his tragic past and sexual identity …. Charity begins at home.
Swicord’s premise sees a nine-days-from-parole petty thief (Eddie Ray, played by Brent Buchanan), his long-suffering wife/get-away driver (Oonagh Duncan as Billy Marie) and their memory-challenged charge (Renfro/Peter Church, whose own short-term recall calls it quits every thirty seconds) escape from the Florida Corrections Institute and hole up at the closed-for-the-season Jurassic Putt-Putt attraction. There, they hope to plan the crime of the century and live happily ever after.
Renfro was in the slammer with Eddie, but no one knows “what he does.” Eddie spends most of his time trying to figure that out so that he can put his unwitting accomplice to work, knowing full well that the afflicted inmate will never be able to remember any incriminating evidence if caught.
But before you can say “you dirty rat,” Renfro’s heart is lost to the dame and because of his condition it really is “love at first sight, over and over and over ….
Fortunately, Church’s madcap performance as Renfro is worth the price of admission. Nearly taller than the dinosaurs that surround him, he brings a Frankenstein’s-monster tenderness to his courting, romancing and ultimate defence of Billy Marie, whose name is forever engraved on his, well, scorecard (metaphors abound!). His near-British, a-nickel-short-of-poofter mannerisms and flamboyant tone add further confusion to these scenes-in-search-of-story. And just when our suspension of disbelief should be solidified, the ever-forgetting hulk yells “Fore!” as he deftly holds a putter, preparing to send his orange ball down the indoor/outdoor fairway.
In Act II Duncan gives her best work of the evening. Billy Marie falls under Renfro’s charm and poignantly recalls her past with its pine needles, long-since-abandoned family and, chillingly—in today’s world,—the dredging of the nearby pond for a young child who was never found. The stale cheesies gags provide much-needed comic relief to this truly odd couple who communicate in the code of stenographic shorthand—leaving the hapless Eddie even further in the dark.
Brent Buchanan sputters, connives and cajoles his way valiantly through his role as the failed larcenist, but his baby face, perfectly pressed suit and scarlet silk boxer shorts (no cat burglar worthy of the name would be caught in anything but black briefs) all combine to constantly deny his character any credibility. The “Two Stooges” chase scene was funny but for all the wrong reasons as the towering Renfro could snap his two-bit pursuer in half without blinking an eye. Casting by photo has its drawbacks.
Still, John Dalingwater has done his best to make this script look better than it sounds. As costume and set designer (knickers and polyester withstanding) he has fashioned a flexible space whose simplicity gives his cast freedom and ease of movement (Renfro’s early putting attempts are a hoot). Wearing the director’s hat he has instilled a sense of fun in this ridiculous outing that both held the attention of the kids in the audience and let them scream with delight when absurdities tickled their funny bones.
This production is great family fare, but unlike Disney at his best, there’s little subtext for the adults to savour inside. JWR