The Cocoanuts at the Guthrie Theater

Justin Keyes, Mark Bedard, John Tufts and Brent Hinkley in The Cocoanuts. Photo: Jenny Graham.

Justin Keyes, Mark Bedard, John Tufts and Brent Hinkley in The Cocoanuts. Photo: Jenny Graham.

Palimpsest theater.

A palimpsest (as you undoubtedly know) is a manuscript in which the original text has been erased and new text written over it. Ah, but the original text is still visible. The Guthrie‘s hyperly wonderful The Cocoanuts is the theatrical version of this. The 2015 play zips right along, ah, but in the b.g., perfectly visible, are the original Marx Brothers and their wonderful movies. Our enjoyment of the Guthrie version depends entirely on our awareness of, and reverence for, the original Marxists.

The Marx Brothers! Is there better proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy? What would life be without them? Even now, sitting at my pooder, I get the giggles thinking about their 13 antic-filled films. “Hail, Freedonia! Land of the spree, home of the knave!” Teeheehee. We should get on our knees every night and thank our Higher Power for these delightful men.

Now, the Guthrie’s production of The Cocoanuts is good. It rollicks. Has breathless energy. The Irving Berlin music is terrific (and the adapters, Mark Bedard and Gregg Coffin, bless them, have intelligently messed with it, interpolating into the show some good Berlin songs, “Always,” e.g.). The audience adored the performance. They clapped after each song and at the end leapt to their feet in a spontaneous standing ovation.

The actors, under the rubber-band winding direction of David Ivers, sing terrifically and act even better. Justin Keyes plays the desk clerk/love interest/Zeppo character with charm and quiet intensity. The always-marvelous Cat Brindisi plays the other love interest with brassy allure and larger-than-life charisma (and, boy, can she sing). Peggy O’Connell excels as the Margaret Dumont/love interest’s hovering mother character. Paul de Cordova and Ann Michels are also excellent. Ditto Trent Armand Kendall as the not-the-sharpest-tool-in-the-shed, but entirely lovable, detective.

But my enjoyment of The Cocoanuts was hampered by the fact that the Marx Bros. imitators fell (for me) short. They’re good, don’t get me wrong, and they are the source of endless (and effective) comedy. They had the audience in stitches. Still, I couldn’t surmount my awareness that Mark Bedard (who plays the lead as well as adapts)’s voice didn’t have the Groucho magic; that John Tufts‘ Chico was too taciturn and subtle; that Brent Hinkley‘s Harpo lacked the goofy malevolence that this character projects. IOW, I was too aware of the original behind the palimpsest.

But I’m probably wrong! Ignore me! See The Cocoanuts and then tell me (in the Leave a Reply┬ásection) I’m full of m____a del toro.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book Tell Me A Story In The Dark has recently been published. He has just completed a YA novel, Deep River. His adaptation of Art Dog will be shortly be produced at the Salt Lake Acting Co. His screenplay, A Slaying Song Tonight, has been optioned.

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