By Rory Winston
By the time I went to see Disaster – a (patiche) lampoon that weaves the worst of 70’s music with the worst of 70’s disaster films – hosannas from the best of publications were already emblazoned on the walls of the theatre like those blockbuster quotes that once advertised, well, disaster films in the 70’s.
Clearly, what first ran through my mind was: please, not one of those it’s-so-bad-it’s-good plays that smart critics endorse in order to ensure that their readers couldn’t possibly predict their predilections. More disconcerting still was that after only three minutes had elapsed, I was unceremoniously roused by a distinctly idiotic and uncontrolled laugh that seemed to be emanating from the chair that lay directly where I was sat. A few minutes later and I was ready to hail those who had hailed before me. The blurbs were right. The idiosyncratic little gem by Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick was a winner from start to finish.
Although not all may recall, 70’s radio employed a form of comic dialogue where clever DJ’s would pretend to interview politicians and then have songs answer in their stead. A famous Richard Nixon riff had the President being asked about how he feels about Watergate. The song answers in his stead: “I’m a joker, I’m a smoker…” followed by “leave me alone, why won’t you leave me alone” and so on – question after question with song-bite after song-bite in response. In Disaster, the art form is revived in better and more fully fleshed out character-driven form.
The set-up sounds like the start of an old Jewish joke: There’s this floating disco casino on a Manhattan pier; and on it is one playboy waiter (Broadway singer Matt Farcher), his ex – a woman lib news reporter (played remarkably well by Haven Burton), a nauseatingly loving elderly Brooklyn couple (Mary Testa and Tom Riis Farrell), a twin brother and sister (both played by Jonah Verdon), a sleazy penny pinching safety-hazard-of-an-owner (John Treacy Egan), a down and out disco queen (Charity Dawson) and, oh, you’ll love this, Sister Mary – that’s right ‘a nun with a bad habit’ – gambling. And then, to top it all off, there’s a nerdy “disaster” expert (played expertly by Rudetsky himself). “What ensues?” you ask. Well, Disaster, of course. There’s Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake, Killer Bees (the swarm), piranhas (some former flick), and a bit of Towering Inferno. It’s a scream; and the cast screams a lot, as well.
From the nun’s rendition of Torn Between Two Lovers – slot machines and Christ – to the disaster expert mourning his lost lover, Wo, by singing “Feelings…wo, wo, wo, feelings” to hearing Once twice Three Times a Lady being crooned to the severed remains of a girlfriend, Disaster is a high-art tribute to high school humor as much as it is a homage to the pre-pubescent taste shared by most of America during the 70’s.
When Disaster’s ‘Sister Mary explains it all to you’ by belting out Here I am, signed Sealed Delivered, she isn’t just describing her own ‘spiritually sinful rebirth’ but, she is essentially echoing the sentiment shared by the entire audience as the curtain drops. •
St. Luke’s Theatre
308 46th St. New York, NY