“The play is fashioned in no small part on the legacy of the grotesquely over-the-top, blood-drenched Grand Guignol theater, which bewitched Parisian audiences from the late 19th century through the mid-20th. It’s a pitch-black comedy that wrestles with several Big Ideas: public morality versus artistic expression, incarceration as rehabilitation or punishment, the age-old theme of state-sanctioned authority versus the individual. It’s Randall P. McMurphy meets the Spanish Inquisition, a heady, intoxicating brew of perversity and polemics, something an adventurous left-of-center theater company such as California Repertory would be all over like an ursusagalmatophiliac on Fozzie Bear.
Unfortunately, its production bombs under the direction of Larissa Paige Kokernot. Actors either gallop or trudge across the stage without conscious need of connecting with one another. They’re either somber and stoic or garish caricatures. OnlyAnna Steers, as the semi-smitten Madeline, traverses the dual tracks of satire and serious. There’s little method to the madness, and it turns a robust, wickedly incisive meditation on censorship and free expression into an X-rated Three’s Company episode, but without Jack bending Chrissy over the divan while Mr. Roper pumps Janet in the pooper.”