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Theater review: 'The Maderati' is zany fun

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Under ordinary circumstances, a friend being forcibly checked into a mental hospital wouldn’t be funny. Ordinary circumstances do not exist in a Richard Greenberg comedy, and “The Maderati” presented by Kansas University Theatre is no exception. Misunderstanding, false accusations and hilarity ensue when a group of self-absorbed yuppies gets word that an ill fate has befallen a friend.

The action begins the Sunday following a disastrous party, when Rena Debutts (Maggie Boyles) gets word her friend and artist, Charlotte Ebbinger (Abby Hadel), has been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital. Convinced she cannot allow Charlotte to be imprisoned — despite her being crazy — she sets off to get her out, while pressing her husband Chuck (Ben Schatzel) into the unwanted job of informing their friends.

Things blow up almost immediately when Dewy Overlander (Sara Kennedy) hears Charlotte’s name and is convinced she’s dead, because she had a premonition. Thus, Dewy and husband Ritt (Collin Stephens) are telling everyone Charlotte has died, while Chuck is trying to get the real news out and making a total mess of it.

Complications start springing up almost as fast as the laughs as assumptions and misunderstandings are made that lead to everyone talking at once, without realizing they are saying completely different things about the same person. Greenberg’s witty dialogue contributes to the frenetic pace as the characters race from one manufactured crisis to another.

Several of the performances are worth noting. Preston O’ffill is delightful as the megalomaniacal, painfully closeted Martin Royale. He does a perfect British accent and is so uptight it looks like it hurts.

Likewise, Thomas Tong generates laugh after laugh as the narcoleptic Keene Esterhazy. He falls asleep at the drop of a hat, and Tong seems unconcerned with his own safety, frequently dropping to the floor in hilarious fashion with practically no warning.

Charlotte doesn’t appear until the second act, but, when she does, Hadel plays her with the utter desperation of someone who can’t understand why she isn’t as special as she wants to be. Hadel is a master of physical comedy, somehow cramming sesame noodles into her mouth with blinding speed before freaking out and hiding under a blanket.

But it is Kennedy’s performance as Dewy Overlander that really shines. Like her character, she seizes the show by the throat from the moment she enters and refuses to let go. Her Dewy is over the top and recklessly self-absorbed. Kennedy spits out the dialog with machine-gun rapidity, and she alternates between condescending looks at her husband, empty-headed confusion at the ravings of the others, and sidesplitting lust toward bad boy Danton Young (Aden Lindholm). It’s a tour de force performance that is a highlight of the show.

Jenifer Harmon’s set is a brilliant paean to the 1980s. The back wall painting is sunshine and New York City and is evocative of the pop art of the period. The tiny Inge stage accommodates the script’s multiple locations via a series of freestanding doors, all of which are painted in vivid pastels — another signature of '80s pop culture.

The costumes are equally sharp. Delores Ringer does a fine job recreating several iconic '80s looks. Aside from New York City, it’s not exactly clear where the play is set. One gets the impression from the dialogue it is Manhattan’s Upper West Side, but many of the characters look like they’d be more at home in Greenwich Village. Then again, the less-slick characters are the artists in the group, so it works.

The play ends with a gotcha moment that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it’s obvious from the final lines that Greenberg did it on purpose — one last joke. It doesn’t really matter. “The Maderati” is zany fun. The pleasure comes in watching ridiculous characters cause trouble for themselves, laughing at their idiosyncrasies and hoping we don’t share them.

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