It doesn't help that the singing ranges from very good to pretty bad, or that the best scene, a long, sharp-witted, and funny one featuring one woman drawling boredly on about death while her companion simply eats and nods, centers on characters who have nothing to do with the main story.
It's not the first time I've seen a show that engages LaMama's reputation for experimentation and falls on its face, and I expect it won't be the last. But two things I'll give The Etiquette of Death: it didn't anger me the way bad theater on a large scale usually does, since the camp and the drag and the earnestly over-the-top musical numbers kept me watching; nor did it bore me, instead keeping me hanging on the big question of whether the next scene would be ill-conceived or ill-played.
There are nuggets of possibility here, in some of the songs and a few of the conceits, but what's on stage now feels like a very preliminary first draft in which the extraneous flights of fancy have been left indiscriminately intact while worthy elements have been left unidentified and unshaped.
The Etiquette of Death runs through July 1 at La Mama.
Photo: Chris Tanner as Joan Girdler (standing) and Everett Quinton as Death (sitting) in the World Premiere of The Etiquette of Death. Photo by Ves Pitts.