Written by Kevin Hammond and directed by Erik Hill, Crescendo Falls 4: Catacomb-Over, an installment of Theater Schmeater's long-running spoof soap opera about the conniving and grotesque Covington family, is a freewheeling farce that breaks taboos in the tradition of Monty Python's Flying Circus. Hammond's intentionally tortuous, multiplay plot, such as it is, involves the endless manipulations and betrayals of the Covington kids and hangers-on to take over the family's record business "empire" from the dead/not dead matriarch Phyllis Covington (Kris Keppeler, who also plays Fern and Miss Ruby). The wicked means of the Covington brood—the slickly evil Chase Covington (Matt Dennie, also playing Mick the security guard), Corrine Covington Carr (Gusta Johnson, also playing the cheerleader Skyla), Shiraz Covington (Lisa Viertel, also playing mob mole Charity Meadows), and Hunter Stern (Curtis Eastwood, also playing Diorio)—include, but are not limited to, murder, hostage taking, impersonation, artificial insemination, and old-fashioned lying and cheating. To update us on the previous three chapters, we have the Gossip Whore (Bill Bagley, who also plays the tormented Dr. Grant), his rapid-fire delivery punctuated by the phrase, "Isn't that whack?"
Crescendo Falls 4: Catacomb-Over Theater Schmeater, 1500 Summit Ave., 206-325-6500, www.ticketwindowonline.com. $18, under 18 always free. 8 p.m. Thurs.–Sat. Through Sept. 2.
Hammond avoids the easy route to lowbrow comedy—impetuousness, intemperance, the gross-out—while still ladling in a healthy dose of sexual farce and sharp, pop-savvy repartee. His dialogue is snappy, and his narrative, while tangled and taut, follows its own skewed logic. The boozy, salty, and often insane mix of characters in Crescendo Falls are played by a strong cast, pretty actors with lovely voices and an infectious sense of nasty fun and frolic—the kind of fun that's contagious and forgiving of the occasional overreach or hyperextended absurdity. Hill's direction is smart and quick paced. The only place the play falls a bit flat is in the final act, a bump-and-kiss chase around the catacombs below Crescendo Falls that, for all its grab-ass hilarity, draws out two beats too long.
Catacomb-Over is the sort of loose-limbed but talented work the fringe company does best, just as suited to happy hour as last call—unchallenging but engaging, simply but not stupidly funny, and full of winks that everyone can get in on. It isn't great theater and doesn't aspire to be—in that lies its indelible vaudevillian charm.