Published on July 18th, 2016 | by Greggory Moore1
BEH: AN IMPROVISED PLAY @ the Garage Theatre
Last year when the Garage Theatre transformed Tom Stoppard’s radio play Darkside into an onstage production, considering my bookcase full of Stoppard and Dark Side of the Moon‘s being the soundtrack for my first acid trip, they couldn’t have asked for a better reviewer.
Now they get the short end of the Greggory stick. BEH is a completely improvised play each night that the audience has a hand in shaping. We help set the stage. We choose from a long list of props. We bequeath each cast member with a character trait. We even title the play. And while in theory the Garage people are right in saying that “the possibilities are endless,” in practice ceding so much power to audiences likely to be attracted to this kind of thing in the first place seems bound to result in the sort of silliness you’ll encounter at a comedy improv show. And I hate comedy improv. But that was opening night, and I can only review what I saw, so….
I can’t recall all three titles the audience suggested, but I guess “Armadillo Nights” was actually the least bad (oh, “Orgasmic Swirl” was another), and that’s what the Garage went with. The props included a big lollipop and a zombie hand. The character traits given out to cast members included “shrugs his shoulders a lot,” “has an irrational fear of cattle,” and “is a UFC fighter.” From this the cast concocted the tale of Tom (Cael Schwartzman) and Henrietta (Bill Vetro), who are having difficulties making ends meet on their farm. Cows are definitely moneymakers, so Tom agrees to try to overcome his fear of them. However, at a pet store run by Susan (Whitney Ellis) and Bill (Clayton Steacker), they are impressed with the taste of armadillo milk and decide to go this route. But across town trouble is brewing, as an overly sentimental Russian émigré (Paul Knox) hatches a plan to build his mediocre UFC protégé’s (Kendra Nicholson) confidence by having her kick the couple off their farm.
Perhaps it’s too much to ask for a plot hatched on the spot to make much sense and not meander, but if the idea is to have the audience choose character traits, I suppose the cast should follow through with them, no matter how stupid or impractical they are. So it was probably a failing that Steacker almost immediately dropped the character trait of “angers easily” and that Vetro didn’t shrug until the penultimate scene. Knox did well with dropping into sentimental reverie, but they couldn’t keep straight whether Nicholson was actually a UFC fighter or was merely an aspirant.
I couldn’t care less about these inconsistencies (and perhaps you shouldn’t, either, since you’ll see a totally different show), because you don’t go to something like this for the performances, the energy. So if they’re going for comedy, the question is: Is it funny? Most of the audience cackled throughout like it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen.
My reaction was at the other end of the spectrum, but I put it more on the premise than the performers. Humor is definitely subjective; even so, it seems people tend to overestimate their own ability to be funny. Almost all of the audience suggestions were attempts to be funny, and for this reviewer they were predictably dismal. (Dollars to donuts that in about one-third of the performances the audience will at least ask for zombie hand as a prop.) What might have made for a compelling night of theatre—for me, anyway—is if the Garage constrained the audience input to the non-humorous. We don’t all have equal comedic instincts, but each of us knows pain, fear, loss, sickness, confusion, etc. What if the audience contributed only what they really knew and the cast had to create from that?
I suspect we’ll never find out with BEH, which seems geared to be silly. I guess that’s fine for people who like comedy clubs. Talk with an odd voice, throw out a bunch of off-the-wall lines—people eat that shit up. The Garage just happened to get the wrong reviewer this time.
BEH: AN IMPROVISED PLAY THE GARAGE THEATRE • 251 E 7TH ST (JUST OFF LONG BEACH BLVD) • LONG BEACH 90813 • 562.433.8337 THEGARAGETHEATRE.ORG • THURS-SAT 8PM • $15–$20 (THURSDAY TIX ARE 2-FOR-1); CLOSING NIGHT + PARTY $25 • THROUGH AUGUST 6
(Photo credit: Stacie Bauerle)