MURRAY — Desert Star Playhouse is known for its satirical, slapstick, musical renditions of popular movies, books, and plays. As a recent fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, I was rather excited to see their current show, Kicking the Hobbit: Bored of the Rings. However, for me the show was hit and miss.
The play tells the story of Walter, a pasty, couch potato/nerd/geek who is heartbroken over the recent breakup with his girlfriend, caused by his obsession with super nerdy things. To console his sorrows, Walter pops in a special edition Lord of the Rings DVD. He then dozes off and finds he has company: Gandalf, Bilbo, Ken Jennings, and Gollum/Hillary Clinton. The geeky group bands together and sets off to find his true love and deliver “the ring,” but their plan is thwarted by the evil Sharon (similar to Sauron in LotR) and his sidekick, Dog the Bounty Hunter.
I was a bit confused in the beginning because I expected the show to more closely follow the storyline of The Hobbit, but I soon came to understand that it was not a play off of all things Lord of the Rings, but rather a compilation of all things nerdy (hence the presence of Ken Jennings, Dog the Bounty Hunter, and Princess Leia).
The jokes ranged from pop culture references and current events to nerd knowledge and Disney movies. I quickly discovered that the more informed an audience member is, the more fun they will have. Unfortunately, my knowledge of all things geeky was not sufficient enough to catch all of the humor, but the laughter from the audience informed me that I was missing out. When I did get the references, I felt like I was a part of the in-crowd and laughed heartily to show my approval of the joke.
While many of the jokes and references were lost on me, each of the actors did a good job keeping it together and pushing through the underappreciated jokes. From his greasy, parted hair to his camouflage pants and Star Wars shirt, Corey Brandenburger perfectly captured the nerdy essence of Walter. Brandenburger’s awkward movements and facial expressions—not to mention his high-pitched, somewhat nasally voice—only added to the humor of his character.
Bryan Matthew Hague played Walter’s mentor, Gandalf. While Hague had a perfect wizard’s voice, some of his lines fell flat because they were so muffled I couldn’t understand them. Kerstin Davis doubled as Princess Leia and Walter’s ex-girlfriend, Donnalea. In her white robe and “sticky buns” she looked every bit the part of the Star Wars heroine, right down to her landspeeder. Davis’s comedic timing was great, as were her mad/nerdy dance moves.
This actor gave a lively performance of Jeopardy! star Ken Jennings. Who is Adam Griffiths? Griffiths added a fun element to the show, delivering all of his witty punches in the form of a question.
Lynette Turner Parry portrayed Gollum, who shares a split personality with Hillary Clinton. While I completely failed to see the connection between the two, or even the presence of Hillary in general, Parry did a great job switching back and forth between the two and keeping her character animated/confused. Carli Christoffersen gave a somewhat flat performance of Bilbo. The he/she/it hobbit often took back stage to the other characters, but Christofferson proved that she could light up the stage during the “A Night in the Country Olio” after show.
George Anderson played the evil villain, Sharon. He and his sidekick, Dog the Bounty Hunter (Todd Thompson) were an unlikely duo, but the two made for a humorous pair. Anderson gave his character a nerdy, high-pitched voice that made for a rather sniffley/weasel-esque antagonist. Thompson gave a cool, hardcore persona to his character that certainly struck a chord with the audience. I, however, was completely unfamiliar with the TV show Dog the Bounty Hunter, so all of his references were lost on me, once again.
I feel I must also commend Jill Flanagan, who served as the musical director and accompanist for the play. Her piano-playing skills were quite impressive as she played live with the action, adding a playful, old-fashioned element to the show.
Although simple, the costumes were perfect. Ranging from nerdy shirts and accessories to wizard’s robes, “Star Wars sticky buns,” and even a tree, costume designer Lynn Funk made sure the clothing ensembles were well suited to each actor. The scenery (which had no designer credited in the program) was also simple and lighthearted, but fit with the feel of the show.
Director Scott Holman had quite the task compiling music, characters, and jokes from all different genres and eras. At times I felt the play lacked direction and cohesion (with references going off in a million directions), but at times the jumble of topics came together nicely and added to the humor of the show (such as the time Hillary Clinton broke out dancing Gangnam Style).
I will admit that I was a little disappointed at the lack of focus on Lord of the Rings. Some of the humor seemed a little disjointed and out of place, especially the potty humor, which quickly got old. But the jokes that hit their mark were richly rewarded with laughter.
Your experience during the play depends entirely on your knowledge and taste. For me the show was hit and miss—hit when I understood the puns and miss when they flew over my head and landed elsewhere in the audience. All in all it was a fun night of laughter and confusion, and gave me more incentive to catch up on my nerd-ese and current events. So release your inner nerd, brush up on your current events and head over to the Desert Star Playhouse for a humorous, pop culture quiz.