Flywheel, Shyster, & Flywheel

BATS Theatre, Wellington

15/05/2007 - 19/05/2007

NZ International Comedy Festival 2007-09, 2013

Production Details

Written primarily by Nat Perrin and Arthur Sheekman, adapted by the troupe
Directed by Jerry Jaffe



As part of the 2007 NZ International Comedy festival, Dunedin-based Gummo Productions will bring the classic vaudeville routines of the Marx Bros. to life in this one-hour review.  Fans of the Marx Bros. movies will recognize some of these scenes, while other classic jokes from their vaudeville days are also included.

Similar to British Music Hall, around 1920 vaudeville was a vibrant form of American comedy theatre, and the Marx Bros. emerged as one of the most famous acts, appearing on the vaudeville circuit, Broadway, radio, and starring in 11 feature films.

The members of the Gummo co-op are all young actors and comedians based in Dunedin who have studied the Marx Bros. and admire their sense of anarchy and surreal humour.  Director Jerry Jaffe, a University of Otago drama teacher, says  “We are NOT trying to imitate Groucho, Chico, and Harpo, but instead to create a comedy show based on their style.  It’s really just an excuse to see how many crazy jokes and eccentric characters we can get into a one-hour show.”

The other members of the company include Wilbur McDougal, Andrew Robinson, Scott Ransom, Paul Stephanus, and Phoebe Smith.

The story-line of the play revolves around a shady lawyer called Mr. Flywheel (Ransom) and Ravelli (Robinson) his dim-witted assistant.  During the course of the show, they troll the streets for clients (several characters portrayed by Stephanus), try to help the rich widow Mrs. Dumont (Smith) find her lost painting, and the bossy Mr. Jones (McDougal) with his divorce.  Flywheel at one point describes Ravelli to Jones, saying,   “He may look like an idiot, and talk like an idiot, but don’t let that fool you, he really is an idiot!”

This show is family friendly!

Dates:  Tue 15 – Sat 19 May, 6.30pm
Venue:  BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington City
Tickets:  Adults $15 Conc. $10
Bookings:  BATS 04 802 4175
Show Duration:  50 min

Wilbur McDougal
Andrew Robinson
Scott Ransom
Paul Stephanus
Phoebe Smith

Theatre , Comedy , Family ,

1 hr

A strange show

Review by John Smythe 15th May 2007

Each generation, it seems, needs to rediscover the Marx Brothers.

In Australia, John Wood (known to most as The Boss on Blue Heelers) penned a tribute play called On Yer Marx that opened at Sydney’s Nimrod Theatre in 1972 and toured to The Pram Factory in Melbourne.

A decade later at Downstage in Wellington, John Banas, Gerald Bryan and John Callen collaborated on the hugely successful Full Marx, which toured to Auckland’s Mercury theatre in 1983. (The sequel, Full Marx 2, which played the Opera House in 1984, was not so successful.)

All were ‘faux Marx Bros’ vaudeville shows that revelled in astonishing impersonations of the real Bros in never-before-seen scenarios that closely resembled the originals.

Now a Dunedin group, Gummo Productions, directed by University of Otago drama teacher Jerry Jaffe, has mounted a new production of an actual Marx Bros radio script, Flywheel, Shyster, & Flywheel. But they do not attempt impersonations. "We are NOT trying to imitate Groucho, Chico, and Harpo," their publicity material proclaims, "but instead to create a comedy show based on their style.  It’s really just an excuse to see how many crazy jokes and eccentric characters we can get into a one-hour show."

The effect of playing the old (1920s) material in their own Kiwi accents – except for a necessarily Italian character and a bit-part player who presumably is North American – is that the focus is thrown on the relentless wise-cracking gags which are largely corny, contrived, occasionally misogynistic and sometimes, when well-timed, funny.

Briefly, the Groucho character is an incompetent lawyer called Flywheel (a flexibly perambulant Scott Ransom) who takes on a somnambulant assistant, Ravelli (a stolid Andrew Robinson in the Chico role) to help retard the interests of corpulent client Mr Jones (Wilbur McDougal) and pliant rich widow Mrs Dumont (Phoebe Smith) while stenographer Ms [sic] Dimple manages the office. A ubiquitous Paul Stephanus plays the incidental roles and a guitar for the well sung incidental songs.

It’s a strange show, quite well done in a committed amateur kind of way, but rather lacking a reason for being beyond academic interest in stylistically anarchic vaudeville. It neither recreates the original nor – despite the odd consciously anachronistic gag ("I realise I’m no Tim Shadbolt"; "You’re not that guy from Lost?") – regenerates the essence of Marx Bros humour in a new time and place.


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