SALT LAKE CITY — The Adventures of Sheer-Luck Homes and Snotson is a parody that pits the wise-cracking Sheer-Luck Homes against his arch nemesis Gorey-Hearty. Sheer-Luck, along with his bumbling sidekick Snotson, must solve the mystery of a killer who literally scares his victims to death. This was not my first time seeing a play at The Off Broadway Theatre (OBT). I appreciate the charm of this downtown gem. The lobby smelled of popcorn, immediately putting me in the mood to be entertained. The ushers were readily available to welcome and show the audience to their seats. It is an older, casually unkempt building that lends itself well to a quaint theater.
The evening began with a birthday song sung by everyone to specific audience members brought on stage. It was quick and a fun bonus to someone celebrating an “anni-birth-ary” (as sung by the OBT cast). Then, on with the show. The audience was introduced to Sheer-Luck (Justin Bruse), a detective extraordinaire, and his sidekick Snotson (Eric R. Jensen). The two actors were very funny to watch and set the mood for what was to come. Some of the best comedy from these actors came in punch lines and in physical punches. I especially loved a punch delivered in the first scene. Stage punches can be a hit or miss (literally). When punched, Jensen’s body seemed to almost lift in the air before crashing to the ground. This was very good physical control and the added sound effect drove home the element of surprise and humor.
Later in the show, the audience introduced to the villain and his sidekicks. Gorey-Hearty (Clarence Strohn), the evil mastermind, pranced around like a peacock, throwing out punchy one-liners and showing off his colorful wardrobe. He was the villain I loved to hate. His sidekick D’est Car Go (Eric Armstrong) was a caricatured Frenchman. He had the typical black and white striped shirt with a beret accompanied by a properly done French accent. His character was the one assigned all the bathroom humor (not my favorite type of joke); but he played it light and with a sarcastic awareness that made it less gross. The other role of this character was to give way for the many humorous jabs taken at the French, from hygiene to the political nuances. Armstrong was very enjoyable. In one improvised moment, he even made fun of himself (as an actor, not a character) which made me like him more.
A while later we meet the Monster (Mike Brown), garnished in peeling skin, adorned with several pieced together wigs and a disobedient goatee. The ugly costume could not deteriorate his charm. The Monster was a standout from the time of his arrival. Brown affected a deep capable voice, in choppy, pulled apart sentences. The imbalance was a bit like hearing an opera singer sing a Teletubbies song. My favorite Monster moment came out at the onset of intermission. He sang a little ditty, urging the audience to go to the lobby. I don’t want to give it away, but the song had a twist in its ending.
As the evening progressed, the comedy increased, although not every joke was a stroke of genius. There were a lot of cheap laughs, I admit. (For example, when speaking of the tea trade: “Who drinks the most tea?” “Mr. T!”) The actors were relentless; they were dedicated to making us laugh. Occasionally a joke would not work and they would make a joke about the joke, bringing it to the laugh it required. I have heard this technique called “beating a joke to death.” However, the actors had good instincts and I think they side stepped the point of taking it too far.
My favorite actor of the evening was Bruse. I loved his British accent; it was exactly what I hear in my head when I think of the 1800’s British detective. He, more than the rest of the actors, took himself seriously in a farcical, chronologically ambiguous world. That really drove home the humor for me, because there were moments where he seemed a character that could exist in a straight play. Of course, this punctuated the punch lines and silliness all the more.
Although the play was great fun, there were a few less than spectacular elements. The play is titled The Adventures of Sheer-Luck Homes and Snotson, but it very much felt like it should be called Snotson and Sheer-Luck. Even though a lot of the show moved at a quick pace, there were several added bits that really milked the Snotson character. This made several portions of the show unbalanced. For example, there was also an ongoing joke where he left the stage the wrong way and had to come back to exit the correct direction. This specific joke fell flat every time. As Snotson’s time on stage continued to expand, I was very eager to get back to the fun of the entire cast. Especially because this show was presented as an ensemble piece.
The back and forth of the actors was very enjoyable. Unfortunately, it was a bit hard to hear at times. I think this was because the stage was equipped with a few hanging microphones. I was in the fourth row and lost a good portion of dialogue. The play could have benefited from individual microphones on the actors. However, the sound effects were perfectly timed and added greatly to the show. I failed to notice any rogue sound cues. David Bells, the technician behind the show, deserves a special mention for this. In an early scene, the sound of gulls and waves could be heard in the distance. The thumping of the monster’s footsteps warned us of its coming. These effects heightened the action and were seamless additions.
Finally, one element I did not care for were the gags about political figures. This is not because I found them offensive, but because I found them neither clever nor funny. They picked on Glenn Beck, Nancy Pelosi, Ron Paul, President Obama, Richard Nixon, Rocky Anderson, and George Bush, to name a few… as you can see, a lot of references. One of the actors summed it up brilliantly: “I just throw out a name and hope it connects.” This type of Mad-Libs style joke was very lackluster.
All in all, The Adventures of Sheer-Luck Homes and Snotson is a goof-off comic romp. It’s not a deeply intricate mystery full of surprising twists and it is certainly not poetry. This is the the show that requires you check your cares and theatre snobbery at the door. If you want a lighthearted, fun-filled, get-to-know-your neighbor type evening, get out to the OBT to watch this play. I hope the OBT is around to delight us for years to come, as comedy deserves the respect and appreciation given to other art forms.