I have always known free expression carried a price. Of course, lack of censorship needn't mean lack of good taste and better judgment, but odds are that every once in a while you'll wind up with West Bank, UK, a rancid musical mixture of lofty ambitions and lowbrow misfires that's almost as deadly — and about as funny — as its namesake.
The Middle East-flavored show suckers you in under false pretenses, promising a tolerably cute odd coupling of a diminutive Jew (Jeremy Cohen) and a corpulent Muslim (Mike Mosallam). But before you can ask whether two divorced, er, religiously diverse men can share an apartment without driving each other crazy, we leave Neil Simon for Manuel Puig, plunging headlong into Kiss of the Spider Woman.
This is a stunning miscalculation, never justified by Oren Safdie's sketchy script or Ronnie Cohen's ghastly lyrics (at one point Yemen is "rhymed" with semen). I suppose we're to assume two otherwise heterosexual males can't share a bed platonically. Michael Jackson's legal team will be crushed.
Absurdity after absurdity piles up in an effort to make us wonder why we can't all get along — but my questions were of a different variety. How can you attempt a poignant finale and an up-tempo suicide-bomber number? Where's the humor in an odd couple without a straight man? And can someone please reward Cohen and Mosallam for their well-timed, strong-voiced, criminally wasted performances?
West Bank, UK does have at least one thing going for it — timing. If you're still holiday shopping, it makes an excellent ecumenical stocking-stuffer for those on the naughty list.
Presented by La Mama E.T.C. in association with Malibu Stage Company at La MaMa E.T.C., 74A E. Fourth St., NYC. Dec. 2-16. Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 and 8 p.m. (212) 475-7710 or www.lamama.org. Casting by Stephanie Klapper.