Theater and comedy merge at ‘ALL CAPS’

And looking ahead maybe some of the psychological help we all so desperately need

Lance Banks and The Red Thespian in "ALL CAPS"/Photo: Jason Traeger

Lance Banks and The Red Thespian in “ALL CAPS”/Photo: Jason Traeger

By REBECCA WAITS

Anyone who has ever been to a stand-up comedy open mic or befriended a theater major knows that sometimes, character-based comedy can be cringe-inducing. That’s why it was so exciting for me (full disclosure: I’m a comic) to see actor/comedian Scott Rogers’ curated show of local actors and comedians, ALL CAPS, displaying the best and most surreal character creations.

It’s also refreshing to watch familiar faces inhabiting someone besides their stand-up stage personas. For them, it’s exciting to trick theater-goers into a comedy show! These performers are bringing new work to Fertile Ground in ALL CAPS, but they’re also bringing fierce, energizing comedy to a new audience. Says Rogers, “Theatre crowds and comedy crowds have the same desire—connecting with performers, their work, and going for a ride—even when that ride is dark and silly.”

At the closing night of the three-show run, I’m reminded of what an excellent venue the Jack London Bar is for experimental performance. ALL CAPS filled the cozy and intimate room with vitality and laughter, even with a smaller crowd. In a larger venue certain sounds and intricacies would have been absorbed into the ether, but at this show, nothing was lost on us.

Jimmy Newstetter as Jimmy Plainview/Photo by Jason Traeger

Jimmy Newstetter as Jimmy Plainview/Photo by Jason Traeger

The 75-minute character playlist included: Rogers clad in red spandex bodysuit as a defensive literary wrestler, “The Red Thespian”; local snarkhound Christian Ricketts with his riotously funny, outlandish interpretation of Carl Sagan explaining the universe; Portlandia alum Jimmy Newstetter performing his flawlessly tweaked portrayal of Daniel Plainview berating a puppet with board-game puns; actor/musician Holly Wigmore gracefully inhabiting the kombucha-brewing self-righteousness of Winter Menuka Bhakti Tatum, a familiar yogi who embraces all who share her precise beliefs with a cheerful namaste.

Most jovial was the rousing preaching and “ancient Rudeboy prophecizin’” of Reverend Randall TuTone, the ska-loving alter-ego (skalter-ego?) of local comedy-dude Carson Creecy. Rev. TuTone preaches the gospel of “John the Back Bassist” and tells tales of the long-gone days of Reel Big Fish to skagregations all over Portland. The good Reverend heals and saves, (“The power of ska compels you!”) even leading the audience in cries of Skalleluyah! and Oi-men! He really gets ya out of your seat and skankin’ to the heavens!

Creecy says, “Randy TuTone isn’t really a character—it’s just me with a hat. What’s so fun about this as a showcase is that we all get to just be these goofuses in fantasy projection playtime mode. With this format, it’s more sure-footed than a regular comedy show. Most all of us come from a theater background, and so this show was a chance for us to produce something that’s more through-line theater: tighter, choreographed. An ‘evening-out’ sort of vibe.”

Finally, delightful Seattle beardo/storyteller/comedian Emmett Montgomery graced us with Sugar Plum Gary, a sort of cursed holiday madman/Christmas massacre survivor pursued by a relentless fear of “The Red One.” Montgomery’s inner sinister-surrealist curmudgeon bursts manically back and forth out of a Christmas sweater, warning us of the hidden evils of holiday mascots—like slave-wage elves trapped in towering smokestack factories, or the unsettling true nature of Mrs. Claus: “Imagine a hideous grandma and a beautiful squid occupying the same space. Her kisses burn like cinnamon and her breath is as hot as cocoa.”

As the lighting dims orange and ominous staccato music inches in, Gary leads us in a poetic, desperate prayer for mercy from the benevolence of Santa, a beautiful piece, which I later found out was part of the original inspiration for Sugar Plum Gary’s character. Montgomery says that SPG is a character who emanates from “that place where things don’t belong, where jokes and nightmares live.”

Preview: Live Your Future, Today!

Although ALL CAPS was curated by Scott Rogers, it was hosted by the steady hand of our city’s only “Internal Power Mentor” Lance Banks, aka Portland native Wallace Fessler, who is co-creator (with equally hilarious performer/songwriter Josh Fisher) of The LanceLife Comphrehensive Total Life System. Lance and his crew of characters have spent the last couple years bringing a “forceful power-thinking experience” of satirical motivational speaking to “millions of people.” Fisher and Fessler have worked together for 13 years—audiences may remember their last, more bizarro project, The Famous Mysterious Actor Show—and the tight consistency of their performances speak to that friendship.

“Yes, but what’s it all about,” one might ask. As Banks told me, it’s “everything you can imagine, everything you can’t imagine, and everything the imagination balks at. Live Your Future, Today! is a 60-minute learning and empowerment session to show you how to forget your past, live your present and memorize your future.”

Much like their sub-production ALL CAPS, The LanceLife empire boasts a unique model that is not quite stand-up, nor is it sketch—and each show brings something new. “I don’t know what to call it,” Banks wonders, “but the people who gravitate towards us are…weirdos.”

Count me amongst those weirdos, I suppose. I love everything these guys do. It’s impossible not to get caught up in Lance’s cyclical web of self-help jargon, in our age of pedantic, packageable wisdom.

For the world premiere of LYFT, Banks says to expect the unexpected, in a dynamic multimedia performance that “boils down the whole of the past, the future, the future’s future, and a little spice of R&B music.”

When asked what’s in store for the future of LanceLife, Banks assures me that “I’ve already memorized my future, so it’s kind of old hat—and I don’t like to dwell on the past.”
Well, you heard the man…go “Live Your Future, Today!”

DETAILS

January 30 & 31, 8 pm
Jack London Bar, 529 SW 4th Ave
(Underneath the Rialto Pool Lounge)
Tickets now available HERE.
Presented as a part of the Fertile Ground Festival.

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