Melo-llama: A Melodrama is the fun kind of postmodernism. A contemporary goof on melodrama, Sarah Bagley's ridiculous comedy is a bit of a theatrical Looney Tunes cartoon, where laughs and groans go hand in hand.
Constance (Abbie Killeen) is a script reader desperate to find the perfect melodramatic love story so that her artistic-director boss, Carl (Steven Hauck), can win the grand prize at a well-financed theatre festival, bringing a large cash award to his impoverished theatre company. But Constance's evil ex-boyfriend — a cross between Philip Glass and Snidely Whiplash — also has his dastardly eyes on the prize. Luckily, she finds her perfect play at the zoo: The playwright is a suave Colombian named Juan Carlo (Jorge Cordova), a talking llama that Constance finds irresistible.
Yes, a talking llama. You should have started suspending disbelief when you read "well-financed theatre festival."
Melo-llama spoofs the major characteristics of melodrama: There's a mother going blind, a long-lost father, and plenty of unbelievable-yet-convenient coincidences. The play goes unabashedly for cheap laughs — no sound-cue gag or corny pun is off-limits. Some jokes fall flat, some go on too long, but, boy, they keep 'em coming.
Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel deftly controls all this comic chaos. Though Melo-llama frequently cuts between styles, locales, and genres, von Stuelpnagel manages to create a unified production. Through the maze of plays within plays and several Michael Bennett-on-crack dance sequences (delightfully choreographed by Katie Workum), the director never loses sight of the story, absurd as it may be.
Watching Melo-llama is like revisiting the Saturday morning cartoons of one's childhood. You know you shouldn't be laughing at such juvenile humor, but you just can't help it.
Presented by the Story Shop in association with Buxton Field Productions as part of the New York International Fringe Festival at the Connelly Theatre, 220 E. Fourth St., NYC. Aug. 12-25. Remaining performances: Sat., Aug. 19, 2:15 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 20, 6:45 p.m.; Fri. Aug. 25, 5:15 p.m. (212) 279-4488 or www.fringenyc.org.