The title of Tiny Dynamite’s season opener, The Audience Disturbs Marcel’s Bath Time and He Is Very Upset with You All, contains more wit and whimsy than the actual play. It also has an edge that’s sorely lacking in both the script (by Ryan Bultrowicz, already a well-produced playwright though still in college) and in Kathryn MacMillan’s production.
An entry in the popular series A Play, A Pie and A Pint, it proves that pizza and beer can’t make everything better.
A bath with benefits
Marcel — as I’ll call it for brevity’s sake — has two things working in its favor. First, its length: at 40 minutes, it barely lasts long enough to wear out its welcome. (And yet, it somehow manages). Coupled with a 6:30pm start time, it got me home and in bed with a more interesting book shortly after eight.
The second asset is Charlie DelMarcelle, an actor who improves the quality of nearly every show in which he appears. As Marcel, he flirts, teases, and jokes with the audience he supposedly despises. It makes for a lively, ingratiating time.
But should it? Marcel deals with sticky questions of privacy in an interconnected, oversharing culture. With a smartphone in every pocket and a smart speaker on every kitchen counter, are we ever really alone? Do we even have the right to expect a moment of solitude?
Within this frame, the audience is a threatening foreign body, encroaching on the “sacred space” of Marcel’s bathroom. But although he preens and protests, Marcel doesn’t treat us as interlopers.
Sure, he calls us perverts, but he does so with a wink and a flounce that sets us at ease. He might even make fun of a certain audience member’s appearance or manner — at the performance I attended, DelMarcelle fixated on a young person wearing a warm-looking knit cap and an older woman who was all too happy to engage with him — but not in a way that ever truly felt volatile or unpredictable.
I longed for a sense that Marcel truly felt violated by our presence, but it never came. That’s at least partially the script’s fault. Largely toothless, it aims for satire but merely scratches the surface. Satire requires that you engage with a problem, not merely identify it. Bultrowicz has no problem name-checking sweeping existential issues, but he doesn’t have much to say about them.
A smile and a slice
The production, which moves briskly and gets laughs, also spends most of its time on the surface level. A rare exception is the arrival of Marcel’s wife, vigorously performed by the talented, underused local actor Meghan Winch. She conspiratorially engages the audience, showing some teeth in the process, but the turning point she introduces is similarly overly obvious.
More interaction with the darker subtext of the play’s themes could have gone a long way toward fleshing out a thin script. But more often than not, MacMillan’s direction leads with a smile where a scowl would have greater resonance.
It all makes for a flirty little bagatelle, as easily consumed as the greasy, cheesy pizza slice that comes with the price of a ticket. In the end, the audience may disturb Marcel, but Marcel doesn’t do much to disturb the audience. That’s a shame.
What, When, Where
The Audience Disturbs Marcel’s Bath Time and He Is Very Upset with You All. By Ryan Bultrowicz, Kathryn MacMillan directed. Tiny Dynamite. Through December 16, 2018, at Upstairs at HeadHouse Café, 122 Lombard Street, Philadelphia. (215) 399-0088 or tinydynamite.org.