Grave Commentary

Somewhere between the broad comedy of Monty Python and the morbid humor of The Addams Family you'll find Spymonkey, a tiny European troupe that has landed at Theater LaB to bring us one of the funniest and most engagingly goofy shows to leap onto any stage this season. And leap these actors do -- quite literally. The limber group, directed by Cal McCrystal, takes giddy delight in all the bizarre things their bodies can do, from poking each other in the eyes to hanging out of coffins. Not that there isn't a story at the center of Stiff...undertaking, Undertaking. The hysterical nightmare, created by the entire troupe, begins when Forbes Murston (Toby Park) enters the Graves Funeral Home, where the poor man meets the most morbidly hilarious cast of characters to come along in some time.

Murston, the straight man, is the epitome of British pomp. Tall, pasty-faced and hangdog dour, he wears an ill-fitting black suit and a preposterous bowler while asking repeatedly for a serious tribute to his dearly departed wife. What he gets is anything but. Alfredo Graves (Aitor Basauri) and Mr. Keller (Stephan Kreiss), the morticians in charge, are infinitely more interested in their own petty squabbles than in pleasing their client.

Good thing, too, for these tiffs create some of the best moments, filled as they are with cultural commentary and devilish pratfalls. One of the wittiest occurs when the two men try to one-up each other by creating model-sized versions of the perfect grave site. Keller, the austere German, hammers out a simple line on a headstone of black marble. He covers the grave in white pebbles and drops a single daisy in a white vase. Graves, the outraged Spaniard, harrumphs that the pebble-covered site is good only for a "cat to shit in." He proceeds to accessorize his own tiny grave with Christmas lights, fistfuls of plastic flowers and a talking picture of the dearly departed. Smart, silly and wonderfully irreverent, these sort of moments shine throughout the night.

Petra Massey as Amanda Bandy, the receptionist/mortician at Graves, gives an absolutely absurd lecture on the art of beautifying corpses. "You should see some of the ugly bugs that arrive on my slab -- ugily bugily bugs!" she exclaims. She then begins to scribble makeup all over her own face, creating a monstrously eerie clown who lectures in rarefied tones about painting peaceful expressions on the deceased.

These are just a few of the strange scenes in an altogether bizarre show. There's hacked-up dancing body parts, a lusty funereal love scene and of course, an uncooperative dead body. It all comes together miraculously to create a wildly funny production that makes a terrifically astute commentary on the strange business of death.

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Lee Williams