Wednesday, September 14, 2011

THEATER: The Lapsburgh Layover

Photo/Ben Arons
If going to the theater seems a little like visiting an exotic country, the Berserker Residents have merely made that more literal. The moment you arrive at Ars Nova, you are given travel documents, ushered into the underbelly of the theater for an honor-based security check, and then brought to the main hall of an obscure country in which you, an airline passenger on an emergency landing, will have dinner and entertainment provided by the nation's people: "Welcome to Lapsburgh," they tell you, providing brochures, sales pitches, and boasts of their cultural history. "Please don't go!"

The Lapsburgh Layover isn't quite a site-specific work (though there is some charmingly light audience interaction), but Lisi Stoessel's set, which festoons itself throughout the entire space, not just the dinner-theater stage, helps to make it feel like one -- the atmospheric effect is similar to that employed by The Mad Ones. The piece is also well-directed by Oliver Butler, whose hyper-visual work and layered work with the Debate Society has helped him both to provide context for the joke-heavy script and to smoothly handle the play-within-a-play, "Detective Mickey and the Case of What Happened at Club Regard," with which Oleg Tolsten (Dave Johnson), Zelda Tre'Force (Leah Walton), Olaf Nystabakk (Justin Jain), and Jebozya Gilsty (Bradley K. Wren) are attempting (successfully) to entertain the waiting passengers (you).

Simply nailing the noir-spoof "Detective Mickey" would be enough for most companies ("Make it a double," goes one line, answered with: "The usual? The usual?"). After all, they're already dealing with a ridiculously sinister man-woman villain, Carmen, and a unique battle between hypnotists, to say nothing of the many deaths of Nystabakk's characters -- a bartender drowned in a drink, a Big Fancy Mayor who is blown to pieces (and then used as a meat-puppet). But the Berserkers go several steps further: their Lapsburghian characters have their own rivalries -- mainly between Gilsty, who believes himself to be professional, and Tolsten, who is "just" a farmer, but who gets the lead role on account of Tre'Force's attraction to him -- and these keep interrupting the scenes. At the same time, there's also a mysterious rumbling echoing throughout the theater (M. L. Dogg should be proud of his sound design), which occasionally forces scenes to be abridged or otherwise ad-libbed. There's so much -- and that's really the only flaw: it's so unrelentingly funny that it never transcends to meet its unexpected ending; so packed full of funny moments that there's little room to expand on the individual character quirks. (Given their high-strung comedy, they do manage to convey panic in a credible fashion.)

Still, if it's a question of whether you'll enjoy yourself in Lapsburgh, the answer is most certainly "yes." Both the actors and their characters are eager to please, particularly the hard-working Jain, whose "PowerPoint" presentation of the Lapsburghian attractions is the highlight of the evening. (The whole thing is done with transparency slides.) Additionally, the intimacy of the setting -- much of the play takes place in the aisles -- provides extra laughs, for "Detective Mickey" is done with an extremely cheap budget, so you may wind up watching a character "die" (flailing about to the clacking sound effects of "bullets") in the seat next to you.

Plausible, no; hilarious, yes. The Lapsburgh Layover feels like a vacation in ToonTown.

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