In the program for Holy Mo, Pacific Theatre Artistic Director Ron Reed describes his reaction when he heard that Lucia Frangione was planning to write a Fringe Festival play about Moses as a clown show for three women, one of them a mime: “it sounded really, really stupid.” When he actually saw the show he loved it, asking Frangione to write a second act. She did, the same three clowns telling the story of the biblical David. She called it Spew Boy. Holy Mo and Spew Boy turned out to be one of Pacific Theatre’s biggest hits. This is its third Pacific Theatre mounting, under the simple title Holy Mo.
I have to admit that my initial reaction was similar to Reed’s. Although I’m a huge fan of Frangione’s work, as an actor as well as a playwright, I wasn’t looking forward with any great enthusiasm to an evening of holy rolling musical silliness—which is what’s pretty much promised in the press release and the accompanying photo. Although I’m not as thrilled by Holy Mo as Reed has been, I found it surprisingly almost entirely cringe-free. More than that, there’s an awful lot to like here, even for a clown-resistant atheist like me. Frangione’s witty writing, Morris Ertman’s imaginative direction, Kevin McAllister’s smart, versatile set, some nice music from Marie Russell, and a terrific performance by Erla-Faye Forsyth more than compensate for some lame clowning and an extraneous last half-hour of treacly religion.
The clowns have the unfortunate names—which they frequently call each other—of Bufoona (Forsyth), Guff (Julia Mackey) and Follie (Katharine Venour). Venour, who has a lovely singing voice, is kind of the boss. Mackey plays guitar and is mostly silent. Dressed in contemporary clownish raggedy clothes, and using a variety of contemporary props, lights, set pieces and language, they set out to show and tell the biblical tales. The Hebrews are the Heebies, the Queen of the Philistines is named Phyllis (Stein?), David is known as spew boy because he drools. God is “I am” or Yama. Nothing is sacred and there’s a lot of goofing around, role playing (often with intentionally broad bad-TV accents), and metatheatrical commentary. The actors clearly have fun and most of the time so does the audience.
Forsyth stands out. She has great comic energy, her character transformations are quick and very clever, and she varies her rhythms and volume like all good comedians, throwing away a lot of her dialogue to make her gags even funnier. But even she succumbs in the end to a kind of glassy-eyed churchiness that Frangione seems to have completely written out of her subsequent work.