Pic 5: Jed Ryan, “666”‘s Fidel Fernandez & Juan Ramos Toro, actor Michael Zartman (“Hot Babes in Toyland”), & “666”‘s Joseph Michael O’Curneen“666”: YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!
Ready to spend a night in prison? “666”, the off-Broadway debut of Spanish comedy troupe Yllana, ain’t no ordinary jail story. From the too-cute-for-words little white police dog sniffing around to the hardcore sounds of the German band Rammstein that greet us, we learn very soon that this ain’t no ordinary theater experience either. Meet the men of “666”: four prisoners in orange jumpsuits separated from the audience by a very angry electric fence. The quartet of inmates treat us to ten death row-themed vignettes—from the aptly-named “Electric Musical Chairs” to the ballet-inspired (really!) “Guillotine Dance”. With a nonstop parade of cartoonish violence and scatological sight gags, “666” is lewd, crude, and rude … and funny as hell. (Think HBO’s “Oz” on nitrous oxide.) “Sweet Dreams”, for example, is a comedic dream about going on a random shooting spree (Admit it now, haven’t we ALL had that deep-down forbidden fantasy from time to time?). In addition to the shocking bits, the boys show us some impressive tricks: The segment ”Hanging Out” will have you wondering just how the Hell (ahem…) the guys did their seemingly gravity-defying antics. For the finale, “Inferno”, the men behind bars exchange their orange prison outfits for devil horns and two-foot-long dildos that seemingly have a life of their own. It’s about time I warn you that the electric fence separating the guys from the audience will NOT necessarily protect you any longer. The last scene makes “Puppetry of the Penis” look like “The Little Mermaid”. Be afraid. Be VERY afraid!
The four actors of “666” (Raul Cano, Fidel Fernandez, Joseph Michael O’Curneen, and Juan Ramos Toro) are comediantes de expertos: Their slapstick skills are superb, and the intimacy of The Minetta Lane Theater allows us to really appreciate the guys’ endlessly elastic range of facial expressions. These boys work really hard to make us laugh, and they succeed. True, the attendees may feel just a li’l bit guilty about finding such antisocial behavior –like the men splashing urine on each other– seem so hilarious. However, “666” reminds us that the job of comedy is to provoke, shock, and sometimes even offend … as well as to make us laugh along the way. And, in case you’re wondering about that little white dog at the beginning of the play, rest assured: No dogs were harmed in this production. We can’t say the same about the poor (or lucky?!) little white lamb…
“666” actor Joseph Michael O’Curneen gave an exclusive interview to Jed Ryan:
JR: Welcome to New York, and congratulations on the positive buzz about the show. “666” seems to be the show that everyone’s talking about.
JMO: Not many companies do what we do. It was so neat to discover that New Yorkers would enjoy something like this. I think that one of the strong points is that it’s comedy. It’s not just physical theater, or drama, or tragedy. It’s comedy, and it’s very similar to what the Americans used to do way back in the early past century, with silence and a lot of sight gags; It’s very slapstick. That’s what we do. We do very slapstick theater. It’s very fast, very quick, and one gag after another. We’re discovering that we have an audience for that.
JR: The buzz is getting around, that’s for sure!
JMO: We hope this is something fresh, and something that people would look forward to coming and seeing it. The reviews are good. Some are very good. We just hope that will make people come and buy tickets, and extend our stay. One other important characteristic of the show is that it is a theater based on bouffons. Were not “clowns”, we’re “bouffons”. In other words: clowns to an extreme! So, what you’ll find on stage is rather outrageous because that’s what bouffons do. The contents of the show tend to be quite extreme. We have no fear about being indecent or obscene on stage… but it’s got to be very funny! And this a very fun show. You don’t find many bouffons around. We claim our level of indecency and obscenity; that’s part of what a bouffon will do. We always take on those aspects of human behavior, and just put it on stage, and revel in it! We had to claim it back from the politicians and the military. We say, “Hey, this is OUR territory!” But we do it on stage. It’s not life-threatening or damaging. We have clergymen being indecent…! (Laughs)
JR: No…! (laughs) So, out of all the vignettes of “666”, which one has gotten the craziest reaction? Which one gets the crowd really going?
JMO: Well, the end is one that is pretty outrageous, because these criminals turn into devils… but they’re kind of “tripod” devils. They have two legs and a two-foot penis. (Laughs) They make wonderful sound effects–kind of like a “Lion King” effect, with really deep voices and strange sounds. You feel this “indestructiveness”. So, these guys are coming to death row, and society attempts to kill them by various means… but what happens is they turn into these diabolical characters based on Priapus, the Greek mythological figure. Of course, we’re ridiculing ourselves, which is great fun… and I think people have a wonderful time seeing that we do that on stage. We also laugh AT the audience, because that’s what bouffons do. You laugh at clowns, but bouffons laugh at the audience. So, that‘s one of the most outrageous numbers, because we’re almost naked with these huge phalluses on. It’s just good fun. There are a couple of others. It’s hard to pick the most outrageous one!
JR: No doubt! So, has any audience member totally gone nuts yet… like, fainted or run out screaming?
JMO: We might have had some people walk out. It’s a show that challenges not only our limits on how far we’ll go when it comes to making people laugh, but it’s also a conscious effort to see how far we can go as comedians. Can we make people laugh at guys on death row? Can we make people laugh at guys just throwing urine at each other because they had no other place to pee besides the urinal? That, for us, was a challenge. We’ve been doing the show for ten years, and we felt that it has happened. The audience reaction is almost like “bend forward, bend backwards”. It’s not “rolling down the aisles”. They bend forward, then bend backwards with outrage and squeamishness with what they see on stage! So, that’s what happens.
JR: Do the men and the women in the audience react differently?
JMO: (Laughs) I think the women really enjoy themselves. The men do as well, but the women really enjoy just seeing four guys just really killing themselves and making fun of themselves. One critic described us as being “impressively uninhibited”! Another review came out yesterday that said the show was “viciously funny… a live action cartoon”. And it’s exactly that. It’s not Chekov, it’s more Looney Toons: guys doing tomfoolery onstage! So, I think that women just really have a wonderful time. They are just outraged at what’s going on. I think they have a much better sense of humor than the men!
JR: Wow! The press release said that “666” is Yllana’s “most dirtiest and most demented show ever”.
JMO: “Ever”? What a complement!
JR: Which makes me wonder: Can Ylanna top “666” in terms of outrageousness?
JMO: Actually, we haven’t topped the outrageous content, but we have done 16 shows. We’ve done lots of shows throughout the year. We’ve done children’s shows—all comedy! For us, every show can become a challenge. One of our shows, “PaGAGnini”, will be The New Victory Theater in May, and that one has nothing to do with “666”. It’s a quartet playing classical music and rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s a very family show, and it’s wonderful. But, we didn’t find the need to top “666”! Most of our shows are similar to “666” in that we don’t use words and we’re still bouffons. Our latest show was similar in the genre of the kind of theater we do, but instead of four convicts on death row, it’s four brokers on Wall Street. So, they’re just as bastards, but they’re rolling in lots of money and wealth and just have no scruples!
JR: (Laughs) You mentioned that you have been performing the show for 10 years. Without giving too much away, do you have any new surprises this time around for New Yorkers?
JMO: For us, being here is a dream come true… and beyond that. As New Yorkers, you know how important New York is in the world of theater because you live here. We live abroad, and to be able to bring the show to off-Broadway is something big. “666” is our first show here, and we’re very, very pleased to be here!
JR: Lastly: What word of advice would you give for anyone coming to see the show?
JMO: Bring a raincoat if you’re sitting in the front! And, leave your inhibitions at home or at the door. Come with an open mind. If you are going to see indecency or obscenity anywhere, it’s gotta be on the stage. That’s what we defend. So, if you’re gonna buy a ticket, the theatrical experience is to have your mind open and to expect anything. The stage is really a true place of freedom. Otherwise, you can just go to the temple of political correctness and virtue. We should encourage that you come with an open mind to get your prudishness and your convictions challenged. That’s my advice. If you’re gonna be offended, then stay home!
“666” is playing at The Minetta Lane Theater at 18 Minetta Lane. Showtimes are Tuesday through Friday at 8PM, and Saturdays at 5PM and 9PM.
See more at http://www.666Comedy.com!