Strike Theater is a small space and it lends itself very well to the work shopping of new works. They also appear to do a lot of improve and classes. Basically a black box with folding chairs on risers for the audience. The stage is black with black curtains around and an assemblage of black crates that can take the place of whatever a scene might call for. There is also lighting and sound facilities and when a new play is being work shopped, that’s really all you need. The lobby sells the usual nice selection of beers, soft drinks, and an abundant of snacks. It’s another of those theaters that seem to exist just off of some neighborhood and it’s these theaters where you see the first breathe of life in many original works around the Twin Cities. These little theaters are a vital component of the theater scene, and tonight’s show Action Movie the Play is a perfect illustration of that.
Action Movie the Play directed by Garrick Dietze, written by Kyle B. Dekker, as a possible entry in the Minnesota Fringe Festival. While he didn’t get it on there, he is able to stage it through Fearless Comedy Productions for a three week run at Strike Theater. The show could have wound up in the bottom of Dekker’s desk drawer gathering dust, instead because there are spaces all over town like Strike Theater he is able to see it performed and from there hopefully take that experience and further hone the production. Is Action Movie the Play ready for 6 weeks at one of the major stages in town? No, it isn’t. I don’t think it’s meant to be at this point. Is it something that could end up there? Yes, it could. Sometimes you need to see a piece staged and performed in front of an audience to know what works and what doesn’t. This is an invaluable part of the process that theaters like Strike and many others around the Twin Cities provide to artist like Dekker and companies like Fearless Comedy Productions.
Action Movie the Play is about a young screenwriter played by Adrienne Lee who is suffering from writers block as a deadline looms for her first draft of a new big budget action movie. She has a partner who encourages her to keep going. An agent who applies the pressure. An assistant who delivers the idiotic studio notes on a script she hasn’t even written yet. A studio executive who applies more pressure and replaces one idiotic note with another. And Finally a wacky neighbor who provides her with the drug that will take her on a journey in her mind to rediscover what she already knows about writing an action movie. The journey consists of being visited by 5 muses, each played by one of the actors who played the above characters in her life, ala The Wizard of Oz. Each of these muses touch on a different aspect of the Action Movie template. We have Quipps: The Muse of Dialogue, Dazzle: The Muse of Stunts and Effects, Fray: The Muse of Conflict and Plot, Cool One: The Muse of Protagonists and Heel: The Muse of Antagonists.
It’s about an hour long which speaks to it’s creation as a Fringe entry, too short for a full length comedic play. I believe they have something worth developing further. The structure of the story is sound and there are a lot of very creative ideas and characters. The show opened with the 20th Century Fox fanfare which started things off on just the right note. The idea of introducing us to the writer, establishing her blockage and the crazy parameters she’s been given by the studio, then having her immediately beset by one character after another, is the perfect setup for mounting comedic exasperation. Unfortunately, it is not paced to take full advantage of that possibility. There are some really clever lines of dialogue with most of the characters but there are also moments that seem awkward or like the characters are treading water waiting for the next event to take place. Much of this seems to be pacing issues. There isn’t a superfluous character in the show, but it does seem like many are underdeveloped. I suspect this comes from being too short to have time to spend establishing each character more fully. This is something that could be fleshed out if they choose to expand the show. The Writer character could benefit from an overhaul. She comes off more as a college student who can’t get started on a paper than a professional who would be trusted to write a big budget action movie. I’d suggest her character, having lost sight of how to write the film in light of the ever mounting ridiculous changes and edicts from the studio. Have the need for the Muse’s interventions coming not from a seeming inability to write the first draft but from her loss of confidence in herself and her abilities faced by needing to make such radical changes for a new draft due the next day. Questioning herself rather than the studio losing faith temporarily in her talent. Then all these pressures and changes that build in the first part seem to drive her further and further into hopelessness and frustration.
There are many references to action movies and when the show focuses on those is when it is most alive. Favorite scenes where the visitation with Dazzle played by Emma Brashear in which The Muse and the writer have a prolonged battle including a bullet time Matrix inspired moment. As well as the passage with Quipps played by Calvin Lee Adams, who speaks compulsively in movie quotes. This is probably the most fully realized section of the play where they actually seem to have fully gotten where they wanted to with the idea, it’s also an area in which even more would be welcome. The other muse that worked well was Cool One who is played by Dave Rand-McKay who also plays the writers partner. My favorite line in the show is his comment on that must be how plot holes happen. Rand-McKay is easily the standout in the cast, his interations with the writer both as her domestic partner and the Muse are the most natural.
This leads me to another benefit of spaces like Strike Theater, not only is there a space for shows like this to be tried out, but it also gives newer actors a chance to work and learn their craft. Rand-McKay was the one performer that never really had an awkward moment, he knows how to just be on stage. I hope his fellow actors are taking advantage of his experience and learning from him that all important skill of just being. Many of them still had traces of those insecure mannerisms that every actor experiences in the beginning. This is not just a show but a chance to learn. It’s an opportunity for the actors to hone their skills and gain experience. Its also a chance for the writer to see what works and what areas need improvement. In the case of Action Movie the Play, I think the structure works, there are some muses that really work, and a couple that we understand the purpose of, but the secret to finding the essence and the humor is still not there. There is I think an opportunity to build humor and almost a farce like quality in the the opening segments that could then be reversed in the second half when the Muses are incorporated into the story. I find evenings like this quite invigorating, this is not the most fun I’ve had at the theater in the last week, but it’s probably given me the most to think about. I love seeing these projects that are evolving, I relish having the opportunity to see something and then hopefully see it again down the road and wonder at the changes and the shifts. Action Movie the Play is a show that I hope they continue to develop as I think the idea and structure in place are very interesting and there is already a lot of fun dialogue to build on.
Action Movie the Play runs Nov. 7-9 and Nov. 14-16 at 7:30 PM tickets are $10 for preorder or $15 at the door. For more information and to purchase tickets go to http://fearlesscomedyproductions.com/productions/feature/action-movie-the-play/