Review: The Pendergrass Fortune or Liars and Moneygrubbers
“The Pendergrass Fortune or Liars and Moneygrubbers”
Meadow Brook Theatre, Rochester
Through April 7, 2009
So, the plot is a bit of a no-brainer, but “The Pendergrass Fortune or Liars and Moneygrubbers,” by Travis Walter, is complicated enough by its quirky cast of characters. Think of your favorite movie rife with physical comedy — something with Steve Martin, perhaps — and you will understand the scope of this show. It is a hysterically funny portrayal of all the things that could go awry in a theater, and the greatest injustice of the entire production is that it will only run at Meadow Brook Theatre for two nights.
When the theater begins experiencing financial trouble, the only logical solution management can come up with is to run a low-budget, one-man show within the season. But when four actors show up to play the only role, egotistical chaos ensues. Eventually, they compromise by splitting up the characters and performing the show together. After everyone dons their costumes and the stage is set, the play within this play can finally begin.
Before Mrs. Pendergrass (Ryan Falcheck) can meet with her lawyer Simon Le Deux II (Jamie Kolacki) to rewrite her will, she is found face-down in her garden, beaten to death with a decorative gnome figurine. Simon attempts to help the on-site inspector, aptly named Rather Dim (Ryan Falcheck), solve the case of who killed Mrs. Pendergrass. But this is no easy feat with an ever-evolving cast of red herrings! Complete with the unhappily married son Julius Pendergrass (Brett Radke) and his greedy and domineering wife Melisande (Savannah Lee); the “slow” cousin Charlie (Ryan Falcheck) with a blanket named Mama’s Little Baby; and Simon’s old flame Danielle (Brett Radke), who had a sex change after their breakup and now goes by “Dan,” this show is nothing short of hilarious.
Director Lauren Coleman did a fantastic job with the cast! Their physical comedy was some of the best I’ve seen in theatre in a long time, and the facial expressions these actors made had the audience gasping with laughter. The actors were so funny the laughter was hard to stifle, which occasionally meant some lines were hard to hear. This made the uncomplicated plot a necessity — despite a missed line here or there, the storyline was still easy to follow.
Augmenting the hilarious staging was the lack of scenery. Because this show is rather haphazardly thrown together by four competing actors with no budget, the set is left mostly to the audience’s imagination, except for a few benches, tables and chairs. Therefore, the actors have to work around mimed walls and staircases, which seem convincingly solid, albeit invisible, when the characters constantly run into them. Reid G. Johnson’s lighting also does an incredible job of defining spaces on the stage when the scenery just can’t make the grade. What is supposed to be a technically sparse show to save money, feels far better equipped with its makeshift and imagined effects than it really is.
With its terrible dialects, stunt falls and invisible walls, “The Pendergrass Fortune or Liars and Moneygrubbers” is worth far more than the suggested $5 admission. It will leave you fighting for air and holding your sides — but only if you hurry: Remember, it closes tonight!
“The Pendergrass Fortune or Liars and Moneygrubbers” runs April 6 and 7 at the Meadow Brook Theatre at 2200 N Squirrel Rd. in Rochester on the Oakland University campus. $5 suggested donation.