Friday, July 17, 2009

Ice Factory '09: Lavaman

Photo/Kalli Newman

For years, Arnie Muspell (Michael Mason) has lived in the twin shadows of his brother, Archie, and his dead mother, who was immolated in a freak flood of lava. Under no circumstances should such psychically repressed energy be brought anywhere near people like Archie's former Man Whore bandmates, Gill Gatlin (Cole Wimpee), who is a walking pharmaceutical, and Dino Riot (Adam Belvo), an all-business, flesh-eating hedonist. Unless, of course, you're trying to punk your audience into being entertained, in which case Casey Wimpee's Lavaman is a twisted success.

Under Matthew Hancock's fine direction, Aztec Economy displays the sort of raw intensity that is too often absent from theaters, and while they don't push the audience nearly as far as they threaten to, Lavaman is far more than mere rebellion. First off, there's a catchy narrative, skipping between the present--in which a mohawked, violent Arnie is whaling on a stabbed Dino in an abandoned grocery--and the night before, in which a far more reserved Arnie is trying to explain his cartoon--ahem, graphic novel--to his skeptical, slovenly roommate, Gill. The play builds slowly from there, but with intent, using the quiet, dead evening scenes to illustrate the necessity of doing something, anything, to remain alive. The same goes for the animated scenes from Arnie's undrawn "Lavaman," with the art slowly shifting from violent abstractions--"he particularly targets married women left alone in cottages and mothers of twins"--to a detailed depression: "He just sits on his lazyboy and watches infomercials all day long."

Enter Dino, on the cusp of his birthday, looking to get back to basics. This requires getting Gill drunk on the highly alcoholic Loverman and getting back Gill's now-pregnant girlfriend, even if that means going through the lesbian biker chicks she's hooked up with. It also requires getting the taciturn Arnie to step into his brother's shoes, something which Dino plans to do via the contents of his ominous, body-sized black bag. Actions speak louder than words, especially given Dino's hypothesis, that English is only used to allow "one thing to pretend to be another." To that end, the second half of the play--raincoat on, pelican drinking on the table, a hacksaw waved around--far more gripping. It's the dirtying of an, until then, pretty tame commode (to use another of Dino's apt metaphors). Lavaman posits that we revere suffering: to that end, Casey loads up on vivid descriptions, while Hancock controls every scene so rigidly that as the drugs start to take effect and Dino starts to snap, there's enough of a shift for us sympathize with and fear.

Unsurprisingly, much of the dialogue is also off the wall, but often so excitedly so that you get swept up in the all-too-believable atmosphere. As Dino, Belvo finds a perfect expression of the "not-to-be-denied" attitude by acting as a deprived businessman, the sort you'd expect to find in a Brett Easton Ellis novel. A similar juxtaposition occurs for Mason's portrayal of Arnie, who goes--literally--from a buttoned-up fly-on-the-wall, to a half-naked, sweat-drenched maniac, lashing out in a way that is almost certainly not healthy for his voice. As Gill, Wimpee gets a little shortchanged, in that he doesn't change so much, but he makes up for it with a healthy dose of consistency.

For a show that's so overt--"I like to rape women and burn babies," says Lavaman--there's a lot of subtlety behind the words (which at times operate with the depth of lyrics). More importantly, Lavaman knows exactly what it is--a live-action punk graphic novel--and plays it so seriously that it's impossible to take it with anything less than with the utmost of mortified enjoyment.

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