We have a few rules here at DCMetroTheaterArts, and one of those rules is to keep our reviews focused on the show that we, the reviewer, experienced. Not what the audience around us was doing, not whatever backstage drama is plaguing the production, but what we specifically thought about the show itself. But it must be mentioned that the opening night performance of Pointless Theatre Company’s Mark Twain’s Riverboat Extravaganza was beset by a false alarm fire alarm at The Studio Theatre. That the show was able to start again without missing a beat is truly a testament to the chemistry of this ensemble and the professionalism of this company.
With nothing but a colorful, cardboard outline of a riverboat and a coat rack with costumes on stage to start with, Mark Twain’s Riverboat Extravaganza Puts On A Show for us, vaudeville revue style, per great classic American theatrical tradition. Renowned American novelist Mark Twain (David Lloyd Olson) acts as the boat’s emcee, and the players are his “children”—Tom (Frank Cervarich), Huck (Zachary Latta), Becky (Rebecca Ballinger), and Jim (Tim German). They reenact classic American folktales, although Tom’s desire to be the center of attention means that the tellings don’t always go smoothly.
Being a Pointless production, puppets feature heavily in the stories. Patti Kalil and Matt Reckeweg have designed a variety of types for this show, which include shadow puppets that find inventive ways to tell “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and a constantly commentating Honest Abe Lincoln (Rachel Menyuk).
Olson is a master of charisma as Twain, with an affable energy and terrific improvisational skills, more and more of which cropped up after the fire alarm intermission. Cervarich hams it up as the bratty and egotistical Tom, always hijacking the scene with the widest grin. Despite Tom’s best efforts, each ensemble member gets a chance to shine in at least one story.
Twain tells us that folktales reflect the development of America, whether it’s Davy Crockett and the frontier or John Henry and the industrial revolution. My initial feeling was that this theme wasn’t delved into deeply enough, but that’s not the job of a rollicking revue. And on that front, Mark Twain’s Riverboat Extravaganza delivers exactly what it offers, in spades.
Running Time: 75 minutes.
Mark Twain’s Riverboat Extravaganza plays through July 27, 2013 at The Studio Theatre – Stage 4, 1501 14th Street NW, in Washington, DC. For performance information and to purchase tickets, go to their Capital Fringe page.
2013 Capital Fringe Show Preview: ‘Mark Twain’s Riverboat Extravaganza!’ at Pointless Theatre by John Hamilton.