Action/Adventure

Theater to feed your TV jones

"Nesting" enters its second season at the Shoebox, one-upping TV tropes like binge-watching by adding theatrical urgency to the action

The rise of streaming services and TV series released in a single chunk has more or less done away with Hollywood’s traditional pilot season. But until recently, you could find one in Portland: Action/Adventure Theater’s annual Pilot Season showcase was an evening of “pilot episodes” of short, serialized plays, one of which would be selected for a full run the following season.

Joel Patrick Durham’s pilot wasn’t chosen. And in hindsight, he thinks that’s for the best.

Energized by the audience response to his runner-up pilot, Durham (who I met when we worked together with the Original Practice Shakespeare Festival) decided to self-produce Nesting at the Shoebox Theater in 2016, along with co-producer Natalie Heikkenen. The response to that was sufficiently enthusiastic that Durham and Heikkenen were inspired to pull another leaf from the television playbook, and come back with something not many plays get: a second season.

Isabella Buckner, Tyharra Cozier an Jacob Camp in rehearsal for “Nesting: Vacancy.” Kathleen Kelly/ KKellyphotography

Like the first season, Nesting: Vacancy — which opens in October on Friday the 13th — will run in four forty-five-minute, sequential “episodes,” two per night. Though the two parts share a setting– an abandoned Portland house– they don’t share a story. In the vein of popular anthology television shows American Horror Story or True Detective, season two will start fresh, with a completely new set of characters. Specifically, a pair of siblings who find themselves squatting in the mysterious house while on the run from a murky past.

Continues…

Mars One: the plot shot, to the end and beyond

In Action/Adventure's adventure on the Red Planet, some very earthbound problems pop up

A.L. Adams has been following Action/Adventure’s series Mars One from its beginning, adding recaps after each episode of this brave comic quest into space. Well, it’s over. A/A has met the universe, and it is red. Or at least, the Red Planet is. Plus, Dr. Fraiser Crane’s up there. Following is Adams’ complete Space Log, from Day One to The End, complete with the revelation of the sleeper agent’s secret identity:

 

David Bowie asked, “Is there life on Mars?” Now Action/Adventure adds, “And if so, would it be worth living?”

ArtsWatch recently alerted you to Mars One, Action/Adventure Theatre’s newest original serial comedy, and then we thought, “Why not keep up?” Here’s what you may have missed in the now-closed episodes 1 and 2 of The Voyage Begins:

Episode 1:

Four human colonists of a planned six have been living in a small pod on the surface of Mars for two years, and they’ve developed a routine. Marritt (Katie Michaels) takes great care to pacify her fellow colonist Riley (Matt Hopkins), a growly alpha dog who’s both extremely territorial and compulsively messy. She gamely avoids sitting in the chairs he claims, or touching a proprietary collection of objects he calls “The Pile.” Instead, she busies herself with the absurdly un-demanding job of being the planet’s self-declared HR specialist. Their fellow colonist Mark (Sam Burns) sleeps almost constantly, apparently cursed with “Mars narcolepsy.” The fourth inhabitant, a female doctor, is mysteriously missing, and the others offer weak, nervous excuses for her absence.

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Back on Earth, Mission Control (Jake Michaels) is concerned, as is comfort counselor Margot (Aubrey Jessen), over Riley’s spotty communication and uncooperative attitude. They’re hanging their hopes on a new leader—Ryan (Brett Mustard), one of the two final colonists en route to Mars to complete a six-person team. Ryan and his fellow traveler Tabitha (Noelle Eaton), a socially awkward botanist, land and arrive at the pod with high expectations which are quickly dashed by the run-down state of the building and the backwards attitudes of Riley and Marritt. Upon arrival, Ryan—a compulsive neatnik—starts challenging Riley’s authority. He also reveals an ulterior motive: he came all this way to win back his ex-boyfriend Mark. Mark wakes up just long enough to tell him he’s made a terrible mistake.

While the others are exploring, newbie Tabitha receives a flirty unsigned message and two mysterious metal pieces from the living unit’s matter materialzer. She hides them from the group. Meanwhile, Ryan, already fed up with Riley, calls mission control to tattle on him. While they’re talking, an alarm goes off, signaling an impending meteor shower. Mission Control asks Ryan to handle the situation and wrest control of the colony, but when Tabitha presents the right parts to repair the pod, she becomes the de facto hero.

Episode 2:

The five colonists we’ve already met—Riley, Marritt, Mark, Tabitha, and Ryan—are starting to settle into a working relationship while repairing their meteor-storm-damaged lodgings. The alleged sixth colonist “Carol West” is still MIA and unaccounted for.

Former lovers Mark and Ryan fight over how poorly Ryan handled their breakup back on Earth, but their communication is broken up by Mark’s sudden fits of slumber. Meanwhile, Tabitha has continued to receive mysterious gifts from the 3-D printing machine, which seems to have a mind of its own, as well as an uncanny ability to anticipate what the crew will need next. She shares her resources with the crew, leading Riley and Marritt to declare her the planet’s most valuable, popular colonist. Would-be leader and fellow new colonist Ryan begins to resent her, and the crew chafes at his bad attitude. “HR director” Marritt decides to put him in his place by appointing him “Mars’ first plumber.” At first, he’s eager to be helpful, but once he realizes he’s stuck with the role, he resents the general indignity.

Riley, while still possessive of his pile, initially seems more at peace than he did the previous week. He spends his days painting a giant message on Mars’ surface that reads, “F-ck you, Earth,” ’til an ominous call from the mission’s eerily calm “Comfort Counsellor” Margot seems to deeply upset him. The comfort counsellor tells Riley that her predecessor “cared about [Riley] until his final moments,” and though Riley presses her, she won’t explain the statement further. Mission Control warns the colonists that there may be a “sleeper cell” on Mars, and they’re all in danger. Soon after, a shocked Tabitha gets her most serious secret gift from the 3-D printer yet: a gun.

Episode 3:

Having gotten over the initial shock of the gun, Tabitha has begun enjoying the feeling of power she gets from toting it around. Ryan, eager to help but also wishing to lead, horns in on her conversations with Mission Control and is appointed “co leader” of the effort to find the supposed sleeper agent who’s sabotaging the colonists’ mission from within. He scoffs at Tabitha’s idea to spy on each of her fellow colonists in turn, but she decides to move ahead with it anyway.

Ryan and Mark have another heart-to-heart, and Mark finally reveals why he’s reluctant to accept Ryan’s romantic gesture of travelling to meet him in Mars: he’s not the real Mark. The real Mark recovered from their breakup by first signing up for the mission, and then inventing a software app and selling it for millions. Only once he was rich and comfortable did he learn that he’d been chosen to colonize Mars. He commissioned an avatar of himself to be made, and arranged to control it remotely. The Mark they see does not have “Mars narcolepsy,” but is a robot. Whenever the signal fades from the real Mark’s android control station, the robot Mark goes to “sleep.” He later has to reveal the same information to Tabitha when she attempts to spy on him and becomes afraid, upon finding no pulse, that he’s dead.

Comfort Counselor Margot wants to get into Riley’s head, so to speak. She asks Ryan to help her by wiring Riley’s helmet to receive her voice directly. The next time he goes out to the surface to work on his painting project, she begins to taunt him about everything she knows about his past. She reminds him of the cat ranch, Rancho Gato, he had back on Earth, and the tragedy that apparently befell it, poisoning all the cats but one to death. She tells him that his favorite cat, Fivel Mousekowitz, managed to escape, and that she has since adopted him. Riley is anguished, and runs back to the camp.

Ryan, in a bid to outshine the others, has announced a discovery: he can create acid (the drug kind) from simple ingredients on the planet. Bent on revenge against Ryan for helping his nemesis Margot, Riley decides to dose Ryan’s helmet with acid. Ryan visits the surface high, and hallucinates various crew members doing and saying bizarre things. He also encounters the long-lost Carol West, who assures him that she’s real and alive, and says she wants to introduce him to her alien companion.

episode 4:

Carol West turns out to have been either rescued or kidnapped by an alien being (played by Pat Moran) who refers to himself as Dr. Frasier Crane. The alien, who has been accessing mid-90’s television signals from Earth, has become obsessed with Seinfeld, Frasier, and Friends. At the time of her capture, he forced Carol West to participate in re-enactments of the shows, but they since seem to have moved into a healthier relationship. Ryan gets acquainted with them.

Marritt, who’s been proudly touting her Norwegian origins and closely guarding a silver briefcase throughout the story, is finally caught in the act of unpacking a slew of Norwegian flags and placing them all over the surface of Mars, a gesture she hopes “claims” the territory for the nation. Tabitha confronts her and “arrests” her, threatening her with the gun. When Mark gets in their way, he is shot, and must finally reveal his robot identity to the rest of the crew.

We learn in a flashback that Marritt and Riley initially shut Carol out of their pod. On the day that Carol’s surface explorations led her to Dr. Frasier Crane, Marritt and Riley had been watching the movie Alien. They became fearful of being “infected” by extraterrestrials, and when she returned with one in tow, they made a snap decision to deny her re-entry. Once Carol saves Ryan’s life by providing him with an acid-free oxygen tank, Ryan covers for her as they return to the pod together. He opens the door for Carol and Dr. Frasier Crane and the group gets over their fears.

Back on Earth, Margot has staged a coup on Mission Control. We learn that her takeover is motivated by Margot’s desire to avenge the death of her sister, a casino developer who’d bullied Riley out of land rights to Rancho Gato, but had then been killed by him when he set fire to her new casino. Margot shoots a supervisor.

Rather abruptly, two years pass, and the identity of the sleeper agent is finally revealed: Tabitha herself was sending the implements back in time to her former self, perhaps using alien technology introduced by Dr. Frasier Crane. We get to watch her scrawl the quick notes that we already saw her receive, and push “send.” It appears that she, Ryan, Marritt, and Mark now live elsewhere on the surface and are just stopping through the pod. A pathetic-looking Riley greets them excitedly and offers to make popcorn for “movie night.” They cringe at the smell and the state of the place and sneak out on him. Riley settles down alone to watch his movie.

THE END.

 

 

Portland’s small theaters pass the hat

"Theater is not cheap." As seasons close, ledgers and wallets open.

As the 2013/14 theater season draws its curtains closed, you might think it’d be time for a vacation…but theater budgets don’t take a summer break. For small theaters, whenever it’s not play time, it’s back to the budget crunch: wooing donors, wangling trades and services, and generally figuring out how to make next season (in this case, 2014/15) meet its goals.

“Theater’s not cheap to do, but we can’t stop doing it,” remarks Corrib Theatre’s artistic director Gemma Whalen, sitting down (below right in photo) to a burrito…

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Gemma Whalen, Jody Pollak, and friends wrap up a “Hen Night Epiphany” cast meet-and-greet and Corrib Theatre fundraiser at La Bonita.

Corrib Theatre’s Mexican Dinner, May 23

It’s not often that Mexican and Irish culture get together, but at her company’s fundraiser at North Portland’s La Bonita, Whalen cites two prior instances: when Saint Patrick’s Battalion, an Irish regiment, fought for the Mexican side in the Mexican-American War, and when (much later) Whalen herself cheekily marched in San Francisco’s Saint Patty’s Day parade wearing that Battalion’s  uniform.

Now, she’ll add the time when this particular Mexican food subsidized Irish theater. Coordinated by Whalen and business owner/Milagro associate Joaquin Lopez, the dinner seems part of a growing bond between Portland’s ethno-specific theater companies. Corrib recently screened a film at the Jewish Museum. The Jewish Theatre Collaborative spent its first season under the roof of the Latino Miracle Theater Group. Now a Miracle member donates 20 percent of his evening’s profits to Corrib, completing a circle.

Continues…

Fall of the Band Closing Notes

Action/Adventure's sitcom-style series closed strong, proving theater can work like TV.

Is it just me, or did this last weekend seem…different?

No, not the bargains, or the holiday traffic. Something else. Oh yeah: my new favorite show didn’t air.
I don’t mean on TV—I mean in the theater. For the first time in more than a month, I didn’t cross the railroad tracks and take a seat in a packed little theater to watch “my stories,” because there was no new episode of “Fall of the Band.” Will there ever be again?

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“Fall of the Band” kicked off a year ago, and its format—a series of hour-long “episodes” about a rock band beleaguered with the usual band problems—got some buzz for sheer ambition and novelty. (Rumors of actual humor and theatrical quality also circulated, but at that time ArtsWatch had yet to confirm them.) Before the second series began in October, ArtsWatch interviewed two actors who’d taken the series to the next level by writing a spinoff musical called “The Water Man.”

At their request, we diligently avoided sharing a spoiler, but now it’s out: Kyle Acheson and Sam DeRoest will move to New York early in 2014—”breaking up the band” for real. Last Sunday’s season-closing episode was especially poignant as characters held a mock funeral for their theatrical band Ghost Dad. After curtain, the fond farewell spilled out onto Action/Adventure Theatre’s front stoop. “I’m actually going to miss Ghost Dad the band, as a fan,” confessed Post5 composer Chris Beatty. Cristina Cano, FoTB’s music director who played singer/bassist Vanessa, echoed the sentiment.

Despite David Byrne’s (and others’) recent declaration that New York is over for young artists, the much-larger city will probably always lure away many young Portland talents the minute they ripen. But that’s only one of the takeaways here.

The broader implication of “Fall of the Band” is that a local theater can—if it wants to—borrow tactics from national TV, releasing weekly sitcom-style episodes to an eager cadre of loyal viewers. Having missed the opening season, I tuned in a whole year late to this epiphany (though still a few weeks sooner than the TV news). I was delighted by what I saw.

Each hour-long episode began with a live performance of the show’s theme song while a character montage (a la sitcom intro) played behind the band on a screen. Next, all the characters lined up to perform a tightly-timed recap of the previous week’s story. In as few words as possible and minimal minutes, characters re-enacted their fights, triumphs, and unresolved negotiations from the prior week(s). As deftly coordinated as a game of patty-cake, the opening summary humorously dismissed already-resolved problems and pulled new audiences into the loop. And the fewer words, the funnier. Duncan (Devon Granmo) once only growled, “AnGERRRR,” to remind us where we’d left off with him.

Even though the shows weren’t fully scripted, the dialogue moved along at a brisk clip, free of the hem-hawing that too often plagues improv. Staging was kept simple, but not to the point of confusion. The same furniture was reconfigured between scenes and dressed with each setting’s signature pillows and throws. Actors, not stagehands, made these transitions in the semi-dark, often dancing with chairs or each other to thematically-appropriate music. It probably took a lot of planning, but it looked like a breeze moving the story along.

The characters themselves were comically exaggerated, and a couple even sported some wacky, hilarious hair…but no individual was TOO simplistically stereotyped. Vanessa (Cristina Cano) was the shy singer in her band against the bold, haughty Lana (Natalie Stringer), but more dominant at home with her sister Charlotte (Melissa Murray) who financially supported her and made meek attempts at enforcing order, but ultimately let her little sis call all the shots. Lana, too, was different at home with former-lover-turned-roommate Heath (David Saffert) sometimes transforming from lioness into needy kitty-cat.

Miles (Kyle Acheson) was a hopeless romantic, but not SO hopeless that he couldn’t choose New York over his boo Quincy (Chip Sherman) when the time came. Temperamental, needy boyfriend Jimmy (Sam DeRoest) eventually grew up and loosened his grip on his hyper, eager-to-please yes-girl Mandy (Katie Michaels) when she unveiled some hidden musical talent and even a (temporarily?) benched ex-boyfriend Shaun (Talon Bigelow). Sound man Ben “Hambone” (Nick Fenster), the band’s resident suckup, finally got his own life by hooking up with Charlotte, causing both of the outliers’ confidence to blossom.

Recording studio owner Sybil finally reached out of her boss-lady comfort zone to pursue a romance with her employee (and the band’s keyboardist) Heath. And drummer Duncan’s resolve to stay in the flailing band finally succumbed to the persistent love of his longsuffering boyfriend Charlie (James Luster)…who broke his streak of perfect concern to lash out at Duncan for his selfish behavior.

Stereotypes? Sure. But at least two disparate ones per character. Which is the difference (ahem, “Grimm“) between having somewhere, and nowhere, for a storyline to go.

Each episode closed with a cliffhanger, and season two’s finale, despite the closure of the funeral bit, was ultimately no exception. Will there be another “Fall of the Band”? A “___ of the Band”? A “Fall of the _____”? (An earlier A/A title that preceded this series was “Fall of the House”…maybe there’s more of that format to explore?) Surely the attention the series drew this year, and the consistent full-house to standing-room-only turnouts, are grounds for renewal of the title or at least its episodic mode. In the meantime, I’ll add FoTB to my “Thea-vo,” and hope something similar pops up.

____

A. L. Adams also writes the monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly Magazine. Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch | The Portland Mercury

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Theater to band to musical: “Fall of the Band” and “Water Man”

Kyle Acheson and Sam DeRoest explain their dual roles in a serial musical about a band, and a spinoff musical about the ocean.

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Sam De Roest (left) and Kyle Acheson (right) joked about writing a musical in Action/Adventure’s Fall of the Band. Then—no joke—they actually did it. Image by Pat Moran.

By all accounts, Action/Adventure‘s “Fall of the Band” is supposed to FEEL real—but nobody anticipated it would GET as real as it has. In brief:

1. Theater creates fake band to star in a play.

2. Fake band creates fake(r) side project.

3. Fake side project suddenly becomes a real musical.

4. Band also develops into a (somewhat) real band.

5. Theater reprises play about band, produces musical, AND sells band merch, in a grand flourish of music/theater synergy virtually unparalleled outside of Hannah Montana and (hey, hey) The Monkees.

I asked “Fall of the Band” co-stars and musical co-writers Kyle Acheson and Sam DeRoest to explain this trajectory in more detail, and they obliged with a pre-rehearsal powwow at Ford Food & Drink. Between witty asides about Norman Rockwell and giant rats, I learned the following:

Action/Adventure Theater’s “Fall of the Band” is a series of semi-improvised plays that follows fictitious rock band Ghost Dad through many stereotypical struggles. After runaway success last year, the series resumes this weekend. Picking up Ghost Dad’s semi-scripted story where they left off last time, the company  will again present five new one-hour episodes that advance the band’s journey over the coming five weekends. Like TV, one new episode will air each weekend (shown 4 times). In each of these shows, actors anchor to fixed plot points, but they improvise their dialogue, making each night a one-time-only performance. To demonstrate their band-worthy chops, they also play instruments and sing live. No sweat, right?

It should be noted that Fall of the Band’s combination of devices is unique but not unprecedented, as aspects of the show mirror larger local theater trends toward series formats, improvisation, and music/theater fusion. Third Rail’s halfway through presenting Richard Nelson’s 4-part Apple Family series (“That Hopey-Changey Thing,” and “Sweet and Sad,” et al) over 4 seasons, Hand2Mouth penned and performed dazzling small-ensemble musical “Something’s Got A Hold of my Heart” with actors playing instruments at Fertile Ground 2012, and Curious Comedy has hosted “improvised musical” “Les Revolutions,” devised on the spot by house ensemble Pipes. In recent years, musical acts Black Prairie and Holcombe Waller have metriculated into stage productions, and even now, Amanda Spring of Point Juncture Washington and Ioa acclaim is planning a 2014 premier for her new musical, “Aika and Rose.”

“Songwriter involvement in the theater seems to have grown in quality recently,” admits Acheson, who’s recently scored several plays for A/A. “Still, on the ground floor, there aren’t that many musicals.” Enter Acheson and De Roest’s creation…but can we just call them Sam and Kyle?

Sam said he thinks his first name sounds trustworthy. “If you need someone to help you out, you call a Sam,” he says, noting that “Kyle” sounds more shifty: “…unless the thing you need help with is, like, moving a body, then you call some guy named Kyle.” But we digress…

In FotB’s debut 2012 season, poor Ghost Dad suffered some typical setbacks: the band lost its practice space, sexy lead singer Lana (Natalie Stringer) threatened to go solo, and lead guitarist Miles (Kyle) fell in unrequited love with multi-instrumentalist Jimmy (Sam). When Jimmmy lost patience with the shenanigans, he’d storm offstage, fuming, “I’m going to go work on my musical!”—which was supposed to be a joke. At some FotB plot-point, though, Jimmy’s fictitious musical “The Water Man” needed a real-life flagship song to keep it believable within the framework of the band’s (equally fictitious) dynamics. So the production’s self-described “secret songwriter” Kyle wrote a very Neutral Milk Hotel-inspired ballad called “On Land,” that he imagined a mer-man might sing upon his first visit to the beach. “It’s kinda like Water Man’s ‘astronaut moment,’ discovering a new environment for the first time,” he says.

Charmed by “On Land,” FotB series co-writer Pat Moran suggested that Kyle and Sam make more musical numbers, or even collaborate for real on a full-length version of “The Water Man”—in time, he proposed, to premiere at Fertile Ground. “I guess he actually meant 2014,” says Kyle, “but we didn’t realize that at the time.” Within 2 months, the pair had penned the whole show, and in January, they staged a reading at Fertile Ground 2013, casting Chip Sherman and Cristina Cano in supporting roles. As you might imagine from its timeline and inception, “Water Man” is a silly story. There’s a star-crossed romance, a storybook-style villain, and some dark comedy about cannibalism.

“We start the audience off with low expectations that these two doofuses (Jimmy and Miles) made a musical,” says Kyle.”So then the plot makes fun of, like, that fated Greek tragedy thing, like w’ere just put in these roles and we have to play it out, you know? We have a villain, for instance, who has no purpose in life other than to be a villain.” The script is also riddled with references to local landmarks and styled with DIY “low-budget, high-imagination” sets and props, including an overhead projector scrolling illustrations. But don’t get too comfortable, he warns: “We enjoy calling those tropes out, but that way when we do something surprising, it FEELS surprising.”

“Both of these plays are pretty fresh,” blurts Sam—and, ever an improvisor, he quickly checks himself: “I can’t believe I said that; it’s like I should be wearing three backwards hats.”

What’s more, the play and the musical continue to reference one another throughout FotB Season 2. Now that their side project has burgeoned, characters Jimmy and Miles must balance their band duties with their roles as musical producers. Because it became a musical, ‘Water Man’ became a bigger factor in this season,” the pair explains. “Now it’s woven into the conflict that there’s the Water Man camp versus the band camp, each competing for our characters’ energy and time.” During FotB, Sam and Kyle will even hold pseudo-“auditions” for Water Man. “We’re not going to spoil the show, though,” Kyle admits. “We’ll probably ask actors to say silly lines that aren’t in the script, like, ‘I’m soooo evil.’ That’ll be funnier anyway.” Eventually, Water Man will take the post-show spot following the final episode of FotB, and then continue on after it closes.

Along with the Water Man conflict (slash hype), fictitious band Ghost Dad will face a slew of new challenges. Two female singer/songwriters with considerable but differing strengths (Natalie Stringer and Cristina Cano) will vie for the lead mic, at least one character will hint at “outgrowing” band life, and the group will begin hawking real merch (t-shirts) and theatrically discussing making a record and playing club gigs (which, if the pattern holds, could manifest in real life). By the season’s close, actors Kyle and Sam will even announce their real career plans via their characters in the script, altering the course of both Action/Adventure and Ghost Dad’s story. And that won’t even be the first time Kyle’s band and stage interests have collided: “Last year during Fall of the Band,” says Kyle, “I was also in a real band called Met City. They wanted me to move to Brooklyn with them, and I had to tell them,” he laughs, “No, I’ve got to go work on my musical.”

When I asked if their stage/life relationship resembles reality TV, both actors say no, citing little similarity to recent titles like “Duck Dynasty.” However, had these young punks followed the early emergence of “The Real World” or the movie “Dig,” they might see more parallels. Instead, Kyle compares the format to older sitcoms, taped with laugh tracks in front of a live studio audience. “It’s more like those,” he says. And for maximum comedy, he and Sam are prepared to play to “type.”

“As a lead guitarist, I’m really obsessed with my pedal collection, and really into ‘modes,'” says Kyle. “I’m constantly playing even when I’m not supposed to be, and I’m always begging for more solos.”

“As multi-instrumentalist,” Sam counters, “I have like one trick I can do on each instrument, but I don’t play any of them very well.”

Well, Guys, that sounds about right.

“Everything Everything Everything”: 2 friends end an era.

Action/Adventure hosts a new touring Seattle show that already feels nostalgic.

Wesley K. Andrews and Ilvs* Strauss are real-life besties; they have been since high school. They know each other better than we’ll ever know either of them, which only becomes more obvious as they try to tell the rest of us their story. “Everything Everything Everything,” at Action/Adventure from Oct. 24 to Nov. 2, is billed as “a narrative performance with acoustic music,” but proves mostly the former, a tandem monologue that the pair performs seated next to their guitar and glockenspiel. Above their heads, a slide show serves Instagram-y images of landscapes and an assortment of seemingly-unrelated old group photos of strangers.

YES, Ilvs and Wes finish each other’s sentences. YES, they exchange conspiratorial glances and indulge in (scripted) tangents of petty-but-affectionate argument. And NO, they don’t seem to care what we think. They live in their mutually affirming feedback loop, thank you, and we’re just visiting.

Ilvis Strauss and Wesley K. Anderson share their recent past...and put a decade's clichés reluctantly to rest.

Ilvs Strauss and Wesley K. Anderson share their recent past…and put a decade’s clichés reluctantly to rest.

Ilvs is a lesbian and Wes is a straight man, and their story spans the time period (circa 2005) when they shared a Capitol Hill, Seattle apartment. They called their home “the dugout” (“…because some ladies ’bout ta get dug OUT!” they remark, making a point to be ironically and not sincerely crude.) Enter Lauren McNally, a girl they BOTH kissed in high school. She’s visiting the city on a mysterious business trip and acts surprisingly eager to pal around with the pair. Her presence, of course, sparks a competition between the friends, who each vow they’ll do “everything, everything, everything” to win her. This culminates in a misguided and poorly-planned pilgrimage to a Dave Matthews concert in the Gorge. As the two unreliable narrators take turns exalting her, our detached suspicion of Lauren grows. But a different realization dawns on the friends: they don’t need her as much as they need each other.

On the whole, the story is engaging and heart-felt, full of surprises, enlivened by details, and rhapsodized with romantic swells and swoons.

Told to you as if by your own friends, it’s a yarn you’ll probably enjoy, and you’re not likely to forget. But…

Continues…

Action/Adventure’s “Disassembly”

Steve Yockey's black comedy couches evil deeds in social graces.

Meet Ellen and Evan. Don't they look nice? Have some lemonade.

Meet Ellen and Evan. Don’t they look nice? Have some lemonade.

Ellen and Evan (Noelle Eaton, James Luster) are fraternal twins who share an apartment and dress to match. Evan’s kind and easygoing, but terribly injury-prone—in fact, he’s freshly injured, bandaged and bleeding, as Action/Adventure’s “Disassembly” begins. As his sister Ellen and his girlfriend Diane (Jai Lavette) nervously nurse his condition, a couple comes to visit—or rather, an almost-couple: Stanley (Pat Moran) loves Tessa (Cecily Crow), but Tessa only likes him as a since-childhood friend. For much of the play, the pair roosts uncomfortably on their twin acquaintances’ couch, unsure of whether to stay or go in the face of Evan’s (seemingly stabilized?) crisis.

One of these five people is a killer. Another, a dangerous psychotic.

A dissonant whine will fill the room, strange shadows will encroach from the sides of the stage, and a culprit will snap into a reverie, confessing unspeakable deeds or even bursting into impromptu gospel song.

Meanwhile, pestering neighbors Jerome and Mirabelle (Evan Ward, Greta Pauly West), seeming embodiments of diagnosable social disorders, use the crisis as an excuse to indulge their unwelcome crushes on the twins through a series of surprise visits. Mirabelle makes repeated noise complaints but angles to come in, and Jerome proposes to “comfort” Ellen from the stress of Evan’s accident.

Two of these seven total characters will be marked for murder and one new murderer will be recruited.

Before the play is over, you’ll see a blood-spattered stage fight partially hidden behind the couch*, and you’ll be privy to further impending violence offstage. And guess what else? You’ll probably root for these kills, sympathizing more with the murderers’ annoyance than the victims’ rights.

Does that seem too sinister for your blood? Take heart; “Disassembly” is redemptively hilarious. Steve Yockey’s script is consistently quotable (“You make your own luck.” “I’m here, I’m good, it’s my turn!” “The universe uses me for sport.”) and Action/Adventure weilds razor-sharp comic timing. At turns, the audience gasps and guffaws at the action, while sympathetic monologues make a near-acceptable case for why some characters must die. A growing blood spot on Evan’s shirt drives home the life/death urgency of the context, while a pertly surreal living room set plays up the shallowness of social graces.

I’m not exactly sure what the animal fables of a fox and a crow that bookend the production have to do with the rest of the story. While they’re cute and memorable, they seem to come and go with their own plot-perpendicular moral: social immersion brings both risk and reward, where social isolation brings neither. But when the risk posed by others is your very life and limb, as the bulk of the play suggests, the only sensible choice is isolation, right? Perhaps that’s the ultimate conundrum: How much is your family and social life worth to you? Would you kill or die for it?

Don’t worry; you don’t have to answer that to enjoy this deft, poetically misanthropic play.

*While Action/Adventure’s living room drama was administering beat-downs behind a couch, Post5 hosted a two-night stand of Seattle’s The Rooster Group’s “Forty Wonderful,” whose sofa partially obscured a different kind of action: an uproarious middle-aged three-way! You know what they say; what happens behind the couch, stays…

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A. L. Adams also writes for  The Portland Mercury and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly Magazine.
Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch  | The Portland Mercury
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