Have you ever gone on a really great date (or even a few really great dates) only to learn something so disappointing and upsetting about the other person that it pretty much ruins everything you thought you loved about them? Shitty, a world premiere comedy play written by and starring Stephen Chang, explores this concept to an extreme, to great comedic effect.
For a Hollywood Fringe Festival production, Shitty is very ambitious. With a relatively large cast of seven and multiple storylines that eventually intersect, quite a lot is packed into its 90 minutes. The main storyline involves a socially awkward parking enforcement officer, Johnny Fu (Stephen Chang), who meets an eccentric, outspoken girl (Nikki McKenzie at the performance I attended, Jacqueline Misaye at others) while on the job. The two hit it off, and it seems like they might be a perfect match…until the girl does something horrifying that makes Johnny seriously reconsider the budding relationship. I will spare you the details, but let’s just say the play is titled Shitty for a very literal reason.
In a subplot, Billy (Steve Jun), a bumbling new policeman, his intimidating mentor, Sarge (Kelvin Han Yee at this performance, Jarreth Merz at others), and another officer (Junesoo Ham) investigate a string of horrifying crimes where the victims have been decapitated. Both of these storylines eventually intersect with a third involving Master Fu (Wilky Lau), Johnny’s father and the owner of a Chinese restaurant, and his bizarre waiter sidekick (Jongman Kim). The play features an all-Asian cast, and while its humor is often shocking, dirty (literally), and not for the faint of heart or easily offended, I can hardly remember the last time I laughed so much in a theater.
As mentioned, this play is very ambitious given the constraints of the Fringe Festival, and its greatest weakness was probably that it took a bit too long for the connections between the various subplots to come to light. For more than half of the show, the hilarious scenes played out more as isolated, extended comedy sketches rather than as pieces of a larger whole. The creative team could easily cut out entire characters in future productions in order to focus more on the central conflict, which is definitely the strongest aspect of the story. The ending was also rather abrupt, with a new plot element coming out of left field in the final moments to cut off the action, possibly for the sake of time. John Weselcouch’s direction, however, smartly made the most of a small space, and the cast, particularly Mr. Chang, had spot-on comedic timing.
That being said, in addition to providing a lot of laughs, Chang’s script has a surprising amount of heart underneath the ridiculousness of the situations. If this play has a life beyond the Fringe Festival, which it hopefully will, further focusing on the emotions behind the story and the characters’ rather…unique journeys of self-discovery could help to really zero in on the show’s potential. Regardless, this world premiere was far from shitty.
Performances of Shitty at the Hollywood Fringe Festival have now concluded, but for future updates on the play, visit https://twitter.com/shittyplay.