FG Reviews: Action/Adventure Theatre

This theater collective proves "casual" doesn't have to mean "amateur," seeming to build a buddy network that doubles as a meritocracy.

actionadventure

In “Troll II: The Musical”, Wimberley Marshall plays Creedence Leonore Gielgud with hilariously evil glee, while Vincenzo Miduri brings a snarky twist to his role as Brent. Both are first-rate singers.

In the summer of 2010, in the lull between official theater seasons, a sudden heat-rash of pop plays and musicals broke out in bars all over town. There was Top Gun sendup “Hot Gun” at Dante’s, there were “Roadhouse: The Musical,” “Beach Blanket Beyond,” and “Alba the Vampire” at Someday Lounge. At Embers Avenue, there was retro-futuristic spoof “Wild Space A-Go-Go.” Maybe my new role as a reviewer increased my awareness of this sort of show; maybe such offerings had been around every prior summer—but I don’t think so. I think Trek in the Park, founded the year before, opened a niche for more playful plays, and the next year a bunch of other revelers piled on.

So how were those shows? Variable. Goofy. Some relied on you already knowing and liking their actors as people—perhaps having drunk with them at that very bar—to enjoy them. Others that passed muster artistically were too sparsely attended to really count (suggesting that these slightly-more-serious thesps rallied fewer eager pals). One director introduced his show by declaring, “We don’t give a f— what you think,” and then the whole cast proceeded to prove it.

But what did I expect? A gimmicky premise and buddy-system casting isn’t usually the best recipe for quality theater.

Or so I thought.

Like some preternaturally successful strain of Galapagos finch, Action/Adventure Theatre‘s brand of casual show-staging seems to have spent the last couple of years quietly evolving beyond its peers, really surfacing this season as a rare bird: a buddy-based meritocracy.

Last week, Action/Adventure hosted four Fertile Ground workshop shows. On Wednesday there were two plays; “Loaded For Bear” by Gregory Heaton and “Dirty Water” by Devon Wade Granmo. On Thursday, two musicals: “Water Man” by Kyle Acheson and Sam De Roest, and “Troll 2: The Musical” by Jade Harris and Jillian Snow.

Though the tiny theater’s atmosphere bore all the hallmarks of chummy informality (audience members hugging actors pre-show, a playwright’s dad running the video camera) once it was showtime, the troupe seemed to mean business. I daresay one could enjoy these plays on their own merits, without knowing ANYONE.

“Dirty Water”

Rural Oregon hippie Bed & Breakfast proprietors play host to a rare flurry of action. A mysterious Lewis & Clark history professor checks in and starts hunting their lawn for buried treasure, their soldier son returns from battle, and the mysterious presence known as “Johnny” that has long haunted their bathroom finally emerges from the shadows. It’s less absurd, more coherent, and more sympathetic than it sounds, thanks to committed, realistic character development and a disciplined and gradual revelation of plot. (The implied mood is also intriguing, equal parts “Twin Peaks” and “Glass Menagerie.”)

“Loaded for Bear”

A salt-of-the-earth couple struggles to financially and emotionally support their paranoid, antisocial brother/in law, while he pursues their nanny—an aspiring portrait photographer—as a lover. Meanwhile, an attractive young woman copes with her newly-recognized alcoholism by attempting to seduce her sponsor into sex, and back to the bottle. Add a collection of guns and rare books and a craven plot for instant fame, and entropy ensues. Very much in mode with “Dirty Water,” this script was at showtime a bit less mature in its edits, though more sociopolitically portent in its themes.

“Water Man”

Believe it or not, this new musical apparently sprung from an actor’s “Method” work on a prior production! Since a character Sam De Roest was playing in a prior show claimed to be writing a musical, DeRoest felt inspired to actually do so. The show’s silly premise that we coexist with a race of “water people” whom we capture and process into sushi, is made bearable by sheer wit and nerve, and by beautiful balladeering a la Neutral Milk Hotel.

“Troll II: The Musical”

This gimmicky, spoofy redux of a cult classic had a couple unexpected aces: the best ensemble of singers and character voice actors this reviewer heard all week, and unforgettable “RENT”-esque gospel-spirited rock songs. Though it was a bit too long, it positively regaled the room.

 

According to theater co-director Noah Dunham, a few of these shows will go back to the proverbial drawing board before surfacing again sometime in the future. Meanwhile, Action/Adventure’s latest foray, a series of late night talk show–formatted live variety shows hosted by Alex Falcone, continues through February, featuring different local celebrities each “episode.”

 

 

 

 

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