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Poe and Mathews: A Misadventure in the Middle of Nowhere (Review)

By Rodger Pille · May 31st, 2013 · Fringe
It is utterly fitting that Poe and Mathews: A Misadventure in the Middle of Nowhere begins with Hall and Oates’ classic, “You Make My Dreams.” It immediately conjures up images and memories of the great comic montage from the 2008 film Step Brothers (starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly) that features the same song. Has to be intentional, right? Two misfits at odds with each other who have to learn what they have in common before they kill each other. In a nutshell, that’s the film and that is Poe and Mathews.

So was it an ode to the film as a source of inspiration and a foreshadowing of the brand of humor it is about to unleash? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just a funny-sounding song designed to get the audience in the mood to laugh? That’s a serviceable theory, too.

Thing is, intentional or not, I really wanted Poe and Mathews to be as funny as Step Brothers. And it just isn’t. I recognize that that is unfair. They are two completely different projects, attempting two different artistic endeavors using two completely different art forms. But at their root, they are both comedies, pure and simple. So it’s not unfair to want Poe and Mathews’ jokes to land better, regardless of the comparison conjured at the outset.

That is not to say some of the jokes don’t land or that the show doesn’t have a cool physicality not seen often enough on the Fringe circuit.

There were some genuinely hilarious moments during the opening night performance at Coffee Emporium. The actors — Emily Windler as Edgar Allan Poe and Brian Kuwabara as Cornelius Mathews — are absolutely game for the adventure and committed to the piece. The program shows that they’re both Dell’Arte International graduates, and that expert level of physicality is apparent.

The actors also serve as the writers and creators for the piece, under the company Grumble Productions out of Los Angeles. The show is an absurd exploration of the adversarial relationship between one of the great writers in American literature (Poe) and his less well-known contemporary (Mathews). What if these “frenemies” were stuck on a deserted island? How would they work out their issues?

Using their physical theatre background, Windler and Kuwabara imagine their subjects as Laurel and Hardy archetypes. They are so visually contrasting that just the sight of them sets up the tension. And comedy. Windler is Poe by way of Groucho Marx, if he were cast in Rocky Horror Picture Show. Kuwabara’s Mathews is a bumbling idiot with requisite over-sized belly stuffing. He wears his cluelessness bravely and seems to take his vocal inspiration and cadence from the equally dim-witted dog from Up.

The actors and the show were absolutely at their best during unscripted moments — hearing the Coffee Emporium phone ring, accidentally hitting the ceiling fan above the stage, calling attention to the lack of off-stage space during the show — events that elicited the strongest laughs of the night. Maybe inserting more of that kind of dangerous humor in the scripted parts of Poe and Mathews would elevate the piece. That would make my dream come true.

PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE: 7:45 p.m. June 1, 9 p.m. June 3, 7:30 p.m. June 5 and 8:30 p.m. June 7 at Coffee Emporium. Find more of CityBeat's ongoing 2013 Cincy Fringe Festival coverage, including performance reviews, commentary and venue details, here.



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