Michael Vukadinovich’s comedy “Billboard,” at the Onyx Theatre through June 1, is about the extent to which commercialism has permeated our daily lives, with questions about the meaning of art and the objectification of the person thrown in for good measure.
Andy, a recent college graduate is paid to have a corporate logo tattooed on his forehead in order to afford an engagement ring for his girlfriend, Katelyn. Katelyn is repulsed and vindictively seizes on the situation as an opportunity to create a photo-documentary using Andy’s body as a ready-made art object, a la Marcel Duchamp.
Their liberal friend Damon interjects reality like non sequiturs into this hothouse argument about art versus commercialism. When Andy is finally convinced by Damon to tear up his corporate check and have the tattoo removed, he gets a big surprise.
The problem with this mildly amusing play from SRO Productions is that it doesn’t have much else to say beyond its basic premise and becomes an extended Philosophy of Art 101 lecture. Perhaps it would have been better as one of the shorts featured in the upcoming Fringe Festival at the Las Vegas Little Theatre rather than a full-length comedy.
Some of the heady ideas being aired could have been better enfleshed in Andy and Katelyn’s relationship, but Robert Routin’s direction remains focused on the cerebral rather than the personal conflicts of the couple.
The one-note performances by Richard Humphrey as Andy and Stefanie Jillian as Katelyn don’t help to humanize the play’s concepts. The pacing of their dialogue is mechanical. Perhaps in a case of opening night jitters, Humphrey often stumbled over his lines. His awkward stage gestures distracted from the character.
Jillian as Katelyn should have been the heart of the play, the person who makes us care about the ideas being spouted, but unfortunately Jillian, who looks like the young Natalie Wood, is as wooden as that actress in her performance.
Patrick Edward Scagnelli as Damon, Andy and Katelyn’s liberal activist friend, brings more depth to his comic character. While they argue about the meaning of art, Damon keeps interjecting comments about the wars in the Middle East, global warming and other inconvenient realities. Damon is given some of the funniest lines in the play, such as, “Over 65 percent of statistics are made up.” He has a “No Blood for Oil” bumper sticker on his car. Scagnelli’s characterization of Damon is natural and believable.
Roxy Mojica and Robert Routin’s set design wryly captures Katelyn’s observation from Salinger that it would be nice if all houses were identical. The set, while ostensibly an eccentric artist’s loft, is actually impersonal. A row of Coke bottles filled with a rainbow of colored flowers is a sharp caricature of the artificiality of consumer individualism.
The apparently haphazard costume choices by the cast did not always serve the characters as well. Unless the irony went over my head, the character of Damon is specifically said never to wear Levi’s as a political statement about sweatshop labor, but Scagnelli is wearing Levi’s onstage.
A loop of vintage TV commercials that rolls before the opening curtain sets the play’s comic tone. In a scene where Katelyn and Andy watch TV as they look out toward the audience, AV technician Arik Cunningham creates a clever lighting design that reflects the colors of a flashing TV screen on the actors’ faces.
Humphrey and Jillian are attractive stage presences as Andy and Katelyn, and so as pretty but shallow both actors perhaps exemplify Vukadinovich’s discussion of commercialism versus true art. But for that discussion to be authentic, the play needs full-bodied performances by the two leads.
When: 8 p.m. Friday and June 1
Where: Onyx Theatre, 953 E. Sahara Ave.