Wheel of Invention has some wonderful performances by some clearly talented actors. It’s a pity to see their efforts wasted on such a badly written play. It’s sadly emblematic of independent theater in Los Angeles. In a city with so many skilled actors eager for opportunities to perform, just about any show, no matter how poorly thought-out or executed, can find talent ready and willing to participate. The only bright spot in the script was an audio-only interstitial that almost perfectly replicated one of the Monty Python troupe’s dry BBC presenter parodies. The nuts-and-bolts of the production, from costumes and props, to sound design and set decoration, was impressive, especially in light of the fact that Fringe shows have only 15 minutes for load-in and load-out.
Wheel of Invention is a perfect example of just how difficult comedy is to successfully execute. This ham-fisted effort lacked any of the subtlety, insight, finesse, or subtext of a good political or social satire. The targets the writer chose to skewer are all painfully obvious or trivial. Yeah, sure, Disneyland is overpriced and filled with gift shops. Got it. But that’s not exactly news or perhaps the most salient issue to confront. And the parody of Disneyland’s long-defunct Carousel of Progress was so ugly and ridiculously overblown that it eclipsed any important issues or emotions that might have be addressed. Though the actors were committed and courageous in their attempts to breathe life into this dud, the direction (by the writer) didn’t do them any favors, forcing the performers to shout and pummel all the potential jokes as though he feared the audience might otherwise miss them. Based on the absence of laughter in the theater, maybe his fears are appropriate.
I’ll keep this review brief since it feels like Wheel of Invention already wasted enough of my time. Though the performances were courageous, and the production above average, the social satire in the script is so poorly executed, and the direction so ham-fisted, that any humor or emotional impact is lost. Definitely a must-miss.