by Max Sparber   August 11, 2010

Playwright Max Sparber weighs in on this post-apocalyptic, robot-themed reworking of "Oklahoma!"
"ROBO-homa!" by Rewired Theatre Company - U of M Rarig Center Proscenium, August 13, 14
"ROBO-homa!" by Rewired Theatre Company - U of M Rarig Center Proscenium, August 13, 14
Photo courtesy of the Fringe Festival

THERE ARE A LOT OF GIMMICKY SHOWS IN THE FRINGE. I suspect the festival inadvertently encourages them; with so many shows presented in such a short time, a production -- especially one by a relatively unknown performer -- must be especially unusual to attract attention.

It amounts to an evolutionary cauldron that, this year anyway, is churning out a lot of zombie plays, mash-ups with popular films, and this: ROBO-homa!, a retelling of the classic Rogers and Hammerstein musical about the Sooner State.

There's nothing wrong with gimmickry, per se, as long as the resulting product is worthwhile. And ROBO-homa! isn't bad, as far as these sorts of things go. It's a clever enough tale, which takes place after the collapse of humankind, in a world where rather bewildered robots go about their daily tasks and try to recreate the world of men, based only on scraps of the script for Oklahoma! that one of the last surviving humans is doling out to them.

The cast is energetic and often quite funny -- the show especially benefits from the presence of Charles Hubbell, a comic character actor of no small ability, who comes onto the set like a one man wrecking crew, biting into all of his dialogue with a sort of devil-may-care abandon. He's a joy to watch whenever he's onstage -- which isn't enough.

The music is passable, if sometimes burdened by awkward couplets and written in a style more appropriate to Disney than Broadway; more troublesome is the fact that it is staged in such a way that the music often comes in a few beats too early, so the singer just sort of holds a position, as if about to burst into song, for several awkward moments. There are a few passages that are successfully earwormy -- audiences were singing one phrase for the musical over and over again after the show had ended, as though they were desperately trying to dislodge it from their brains. Similarly, there was one specific, automaton-like dance move that everybody seemed to be attempting at the end of the show -- so if the robot suddenly comes back into fashion in the next year, we'll know who to blame.

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Related performance details:

ROBO-homa! A Territory Tale with a Technological Twist, presented by Rewired Theatre Company, is on stage at the U of M Rarig Center Proscenium. Remaining shows: August 13 (5:30 pm), 14 (7 pm)

Check back regularly throughout the Fringe Festival for more short reviews on mnartists.org, sent in from our intrepid performance critics

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About the author: Max Sparber is a playwright and journalist, as well as being a member of the unforgivably rude cult band The Dirty Curls. His work as a playwright can be read at http://www.maxsparberplays.com/.