Some relics of the past are best left moldering in the attic. Such a dusty curio is “Loud Speaker,” John Howard Lawson’s frantic 1927 burlesque of American politics, presented in repertory with “Success Story,” another Lawson work, by ReGroup Theatre. Lawson’s humor may have been fresh 86 years ago, but the wisecracks about candidates pandering to various ethnic groups and the eagerness of the press for scandal are tired and obvious. Director Nic Davies hits the audience over the head with every line and too many of the scenes don’t even make sense.
The trouble starts at the top of the mercifully brief show when Matt Giroveanu, as New York gubernatorial candidate Harry U. Collins, enters wearing a Hasidic fur cap and side curls to address a Jewish group. After some unfunny remarks about his audience of prospective voters, he dons one of those cheap green party hats for St. Patrick’s Day and turns to an Irish crowd. Things go downhill from there as we enter the Collins home and encounter blithering wife Emma, nasty alcoholic daughter Clare, tap-dancing butler Josephus, and Emma’s nutty spiritual adviser, who doesn’t speak English or have a name. On the eve of the election this madhouse is invaded by overeager rookie reporter Johnnie Dunne, whose job depends on him digging up dirt on Collins, and Johnnie’s mother, Dorothy, a gossip columnist out to pry secrets from Emma. There’s also Floradora, a former fling of Harry’s who may or may not be a ghost. This young lady’s corporeal substance is just one of the many mysteries that are never cleared up. Even in a zany comedy sketch logical consistency is required, and Lawson’s dated script lacks it.
Davies’ hyped-up, sloppy staging just adds to the confusion, as do the majority of the performances. Most of the cast mugs shamelessly, trying to be “funny” rather than pursuing their characters’ objectives. Giroveanu at least has a foundation of credibility upon which to build a few comic flourishes. Daniel Hainsworth provides snappy commentary and musical accompaniment as a backroom flunkey, but his role is too small for any major impact; ditto for Ave M. Lindon’s sharp sob sister Dorothy.
Pairing “Loud Speaker” with “Success Story” makes a certain kind of sense. They offer contrasting interpretations of the corrupt pursuit of the American dream, but both are so antiquated that they fail to rise above the status of historical oddity. For still-effective political satire of this era try listening to a CD of the Pulitzer Prize–winning musical “Of Thee I Sing” or even its obscure sequel, “Let ’Em Eat Cake.”
Presented by ReGroup Theatre at the Robert Moss Theater at 440 Studios, 440 Lafayette St., NYC. March 9–23. (212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com.
Critic’s Score: D