THE FIRST TIME I watched It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia at the urging of a friend, I didn't like it. I probably wouldn't have watched it again, but I found myself home with the flu and nothing else to stream, so I gave it another go. I was glad I did: After a few more episodes I could get past my unease at the moronic, frequently despicable behavior of the characters, and I began to see what was smart and funny about the show.
I kept hoping for a similar moment with Francesca, Isabella, Margarita on a Cloud, a play by Carol Triffle running this month at Imago Theatre.
Like Sunny, Cloud is an unhinged, farcical comedy populated with clownish antiheroes. It concerns three adult sisters who grew up on the beauty pageant circuit. Raised in shallow and sleazy circumstances, they are profoundly dysfunctional. The oldest, pretty Margarita, suffers from hallucinations of her former pageant days (when she's not teasing the local weatherman who's in love with her). Brainy Francesca is a bitter mess who charges her sisters rent to live in their own parents' home. And young Isabella has recently been exploited by a film crew in Albuquerque and may or may not have had sex on camera. The sisters bicker and fight, drink, and hash out wounds from childhood, all with hyperbolic comedy, the occasional musical number, and "western" accents.
Throughout Cloud, I tried to get past the ass-scratching and icky haze of feminine instability to find something appealing in the characters and their predicaments, but by the end, I was only left with a story about the horrors of beauty pageants. As a subject for satire, this seems like low-hanging fruit. The issue, though, is less whether pageants are topical and more what the play manages to do with the subject. In this case, it's not enough.
Francesca, Isabella, Margarita on a Cloud isn't without humorous moments—it's at turns dark, slapstick, absurd, and farcical. But seldom does it seem smart.