Amphibian Stage Productions
Director – David A. Miller
Scenic Designer – Sean Urbantke
Lighting Designer – Fred Uebele
Sound Designer – David Lanza
Costume Designer – Derek Whitener
Properties Designer – Megan Beddingfield
Masks created by Victor N. Brockwell
Father/Narrator – Jay Duffer
Kent/Harold Fleetfoot/Hans/Arnold-Gunther/Rhonda/Pascal – John Forkner
Little Girl/Amelia – Alexandra Lawrence
Wulfric/Ulrich/Jean-Michel/Queen – Brandon Murphy
Gavin – Scott Zenreich
Reviewed Performance 7/12/2014
Reviewed by Larry Ukolowicz, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
As The Nosemaker’s Apprentice: Chronicles of a Medieval Plastic Surgeon at Amphibian Stage Productions progressed, I felt as if I was on a Tilt-a-Whirl in a Monty Python-Princess Bride-South Park Adventureland, left of the Twilight Zone and just around the corner from Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Throughout the evening, I chuckled, snickered and tittered as I found myself in a surreal willowy world much like Fractured Fairy Tales on the old Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Each scene was more ridiculous than the last and it kept cascading throughout the evening. So much so, I really was expecting Natasha and Boris to make a special appearance.
The story is told by a sketchy, intoxicatingly negative, modern-day surgeon to his sweet and skeptical young daughter who simply wants to go to sleep to be rested for the next school day. Daddy, with support from his buddy, Jack Daniels, decides to tell the gruesome, ghostly and gory story of plastic surgery to the little girl who considers Joan Rivers to be the most beautiful plastic surgery icon in the world.
The father chronicles his tale through the life and times of the innovator and hero, Gavin, the nosemaker, a wide-eyed, apple-cheeked innocent ready to accept his destiny as one of the finest surgeons in Vienna.
The father/narrator was flawlessly portrayed by Jay Duffer. Right from the beginning, his character was established with drink in hand, sarcastic swagger and intense wide eyes, and he never lost command of the stage. As the story progressed, so did the father’s love of Jack Daniels. In Act Two, Duffer brings on an entire bottle to help him tell the story in a very funny routine.
The daughter, not a very demanding role, was sweetly and innocently played to perfection by Alexandra Lawrence as she held her blanket up to her chin as daddy’s bedtime story developed into more of a horror movie telling. Ms. Lawrence, however, shone brightly as the love interest, Amelia, later in the story and gave the character great depth and humanity. She beautifully portrayed Amelia with open-armed, soft whispery voice and an allegiance to her man as she waited for him to return from his studies to be her one and only.
Scott Zenreich was intensely and deliriously delightful in keeping focus on Gavin’s destiny and offered some genuinely wonderful moments of dewy-eyed innocence. Mr. Zenreich, through Gavin’s journey, changes from wide-eyed innocent boy to a conscientiously honorable man right before our eyes with great poise and assurance, beautifully portrayed. When playing the boy, his intensity was focused on the other actors, and as his character matured, he included not only the actors, but the entire audience, a wonderful use of theatrical artistic skill.
Wulfric, Gavin’s benefactor, was exquisitely played by Brandon Murphy, whose quick-footed, quick-witted, large presence drenched the stage in salaciously solid characters of mischief, mayhem and mirth. Mr. Murphy’s meticulous portrayal of the Queen of France was a stunning portrayal of plastic surgery obsession at its worst. Mr. Murphy took the Queen from normal plump human to disfigured sideshow freak with great, sweeping gesture and larger than life mimicry of what beauty should not be. This was achieved with a light behind the actor standing in front of burlap panels. The audience became witness to the ugly obsession in shadow form.
Along the way, Gavin meets other fantastical, ferociously funny and feverishly fast-past felons and flunkies, Kent, Hans and Pascal and others, all marvelously manipulated and manufactured by actor John Forkner. Mr. Forkner’s movements were Red Bull- charged and his quick, almost animatronic portrayals were expertly timed. Comic-timing is something not learned in an acting class. It is not an art form developed by watching other great comedians do their work. As Carol Burnett said, “Either you got it, or you don’t.” Mr. Forkner, you got it!
As absurd as the story sounds, the crazy premise, horrifying (if not demonic) descriptions, and the very outlandish medical procedures such as making a nose from the spleen of a badger, openly and without boundary mock today’s mad, ghoulish and absurd fascination with physical beauty. Here is where mask maker, Victor N. Brockwell, succeeded in taking the innuendos and bringing them to life through his different masks for different characters. The masks were not pretty and helped drunk daddy with his ghoulish story. I could only imagine that perhaps these masks were what the little girl imagined as daddy told the story.
The play also takes time, with very subtle nuance, to take digs at the basic over-the-counter cosmetics like nail polish, wigs, rouge and lipstick. In essence, the play made you think just how much time we spend shallowly primping the outside, from cosmetics to gym time, when we should be spending the same amount of time, if not more, making the inside just as pretty. (This show needs to be performed in front of a cosmetic-pusher or 24-hour Fitness Center convention.)
I applaud Director David A. Miller for really ‘getting’ the goofy-kooky-wacky concept of Nick Jones and Rachel Shukert’s script. A director must possess a Grimm’s-Mother Goose-Dr. Seuss mentality of lightness and fancy to get a satirical play to that sacred ground. As The Cat in the Hat proclaims, “It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how.” I truly enjoyed Mr. Miller’s smaller touches on the risqué, earthy and suggestive themes which, at best, deserved an “R” (i.e. Ridiculously Risible) rating. I very much appreciate farce done with heart.
However, the second act was missing the delicious devilish puns of the first and became a bit laborious. This had nothing to do with Amphibian’s production. It is a result of a script that ran out of steam in Act Two. However, when you have an ensemble that works so well together, such as Amphibian’s five masters on the stage, it results in an evening of wonderment and wonderfulness. As I left the theatre, I had one thought, actually one question: Would this play have worked better without an intermission?
When distracted by unnecessary or overpowering set designs, discombobulated by ill-fitting costumes, or flummoxed by superfluous light shows, I sometimes miss the action on stage because the faux-pas of bad design haunts me throughout the entire show. This was not the case with this production. The set design by Sean Urbantke, using moveable panels of burlap and wood-slatted walls, added to the dark, shadowy world drunk daddy was creating. They were a great backdrop to the flawless costumes by Derek Whitener of earthy and coarse texture.
Lighting design by Fred Uebele took us into two worlds, the story-telling/narrator scene and the fable of Gavin, without one iota of error. The lights illuminated the stage and yet cast shadows, adding to the eerie story. David Lanza’s sound design was perfection, creating footsteps, opening and closing doors, screams and laughs as needed. I especially loved the music at intermission. Could there be anything funnier than hearing Right Said Fred singing, “I’m Too Sexy” at a play about plastic surgery?
The Nosemaker’s Apprentice offers many moments of very goofy, giddy and gore-geous giggles. Even those whose prudent and conservative attitudes shun the pun, this play may break through that tough-skinned terrain and set you free from the shackles of seriousness. Stating “Beauty is only skin deep” is a rather shallow attempt to summarize the show. Yet it fits the adventure to a tee. But the little girl, all snuggled up in her bed after drunk daddy tells the story really says it all at the end of the play - “Isn’t it pointless? Regardless of what you have done to yourself, you end up dead anyway.”
In today’s impersonal iPhone, iPod, iIgnore-you world, humor seems to be a dying art. Let Amphibian Stage Productions revitalize and recharge your funny bone. You will have as much fun in your seat as the actors are obviously having on stage. If you are considering plastic surgery, I suggest seeing The Nosemaker’s Apprentice. I double-dog dare you!
THE NOSEMAKER’S APPRENTICE: CHRONICLES OF A MEDIEVAL
Amphibian Stage Productions
120 South Main Street
Fort Worth, TX 76104
Plays through August 10th
Thursday - Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm
Ticket prices are $33.00, $28.00 for seniors 60+, and $18.00 for students.
Group discount is $5.00 off per ticket for groups of 6 or more.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.amphibianproductions.org or call their box office at 817-923-3012