FORT WORTH And now for something not completely different.
The Nosemaker’s Apprentice: Chronicles of a Medieval Plastic Surgeon, a 2011 comedy that had its regional premiere at Amphibian Stage Productions on Thursday, owes a great debt to those legendary masters of British humor, Monty Python.
This show, which wraps a contemporary context around its goofy, ancient shenanigans, has the same snarky and anachronistic style as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, right down to using coconut shells to imitate the sounds of galloping hooves. This script, by American playwrights Nick Jones and Rachel Shukert, is probably only about one dead parrot shy of a lawsuit.
The proceedings begin innocently enough with a father (Jay Duffer) reading a bedtime story to his 8-year-old daughter (Alexandra Lawrence). But this is no typical father and no typical bedtime story. We soon come to understand that Dad is probably a criminally inept, unlicensed plastic surgeon with a drinking problem.
He knocks back copious amounts of beer and whisky while telling his shocked and confused daughter his convoluted tale, an account laced with bitter memories of his own medical training that was apparently acquired in the more academically forgiving climes of South America.
There is a reason his own past becomes mixed in with the bedtime story. Dad’s rambling, and often hilarious, narrative about an aspiring “nosemaker” (dad’s term for a Dark Ages plastic surgeon) who is suppressed by narrow-minded officials who seem to want medical professionals to be competent, is actually an allegory for his own thoroughly messed up life.
The structure of the play calls for Dad to set the scenes, which are then played out by the story’s characters, including Wulfric (Brandon Murphy), a noted nosemaker who takes the guileless Gavin (Scott Zenreich), a resident of the Ivanhoe Workhouse for Criminally Impoverished Boys, under his wing. John Forkner plays several sidekicks and patients, and Lawrence slips out of bed to play Gavin’s love interest, Amelia.
Nearly all of the acting is set at exactly the right pitch. Director David A. Miller and his players do a great job of finding an ideal tone for this fractured fairy tale. The only slight stumble is that Lawrence seems undecided about her accent. But the quartet of actors working with her are fabulous.
The staging is minimal, but Fred Uebele’s lighting design is exceptionally good, as are the costumes by Derek Whitener and the grotesque masks by Victor N. Brockwell. If it all looks and sounds like a Monty Python episode, so be it. The Pythons are a scream.
Less forgivable, however, is the show’s length. It runs a full two hours and does not need to. Miller’s pacing is fine. The text is just a bit bloated.
So there is a ring of familiarity to this nutty little bit of summer fluff. But this play manages to borrow from its betters without feeling stale or recycled. In its race for laughs, it wins by a nose.