The setup: Orange Theatre Group, not unlike the ASU Herberger College grad cohort that more or less begat it, Interrobang, and its other offshoot, festina lente, is committed to pushing the envelope of new drama, developing performance that connects with varying degrees of tenacity to the existing texts it's often inspired by or based on. Besides healthy doses of pop culture, humor, shock, and nihilism, Orange adds a strong and purposeful multimedia component to the deconstruction/reconstruction.
OTG's current production, You You Shouldn't Come Back, is really quite a bit like the beginning and middle of Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth. It doesn't ask nearly the appreciation or even tolerance for totally fucked-up weirdness that a typical evening with Orange might require of its audience members.
See also: - Best A/V Club - 2012: Orange Theatre Group - Chris Danowski's Desiring Flight from Orange Theatre Group -- Two More Performances! - The Revenger's Tragedy's a Compelling Work in Progress from festina lente
The execution: The environment of the show is sort of like a rehearsal/runthrough of something that appears that it will be a videorecorded version of Sweet Bird with a few loungey and 1980s musical interludes. The actors start and stop and rush through lines and moodily cut numbers short; a floor manager calls out commands and reads stage directions (and those of Williams are famously florid, so when they get played with, it's fun).
The performance venue, part of an old industrial warehouse, is appropriately reminiscent of a vast, blank soundstage. Videographer Tucker Bingham becomes part of the action, moving cameras and microphones around and sometimes playing bit parts. There are moments of "behind the scenes" dissonance and humor that make literal the figurative concept that all is not what it seems.
As the promotional materials state, "The story of the past is created in the present and the real is created on TV." The experience of watching You You Shouldn't Come Back is flavored by one's own attitudes and experiences, which is, yes, true of all art, but in this situation a psychic space is created for just that mental activity. Does it make something more or less real to repeat it, to record it, to get it a little bit wrong?
Most of the "scenes" here are between opportunistic gigolo and would-be actor Chance Wayne and the somewhat older film star he's attached himself to, Alexandra Del Lago, a.k.a. Princess Kosmonopolis. William Crook and Katrina Donaldson (who was the captivating solo performer in hair & fingernails) shift among playing those characters, playing versions of themselves as actors, and playing a couple showing each other how to make (fully clothed) amateur porn. They are quite compelling to watch.
Crook gives off a vibe very like a less wholesome version of How I Met Your Mother's Barney Stinson. Despite the layers of artifice and bluster, he exudes real emotion at unexpected moments.
Donaldson makes it clear that, despite the Princess' trauma and vulnerability, she's less self-deluded than Chance. Her green wig instantly made me think of Aurora shooting suspect James Holmes, who reportedly told authorities he was "the Joker" with his orange-dyed hair. The statement about his statement was retracted (i.e., it's more likely he did not say that), but at the time, I can't have been the only person who thought, "Hey, stupid, the Joker's hair is green," and then immediately gave myself a hard time for fixating on something so trivial in the face of such horrible violence and loss.
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That's Orange Theatre Group for you -- a carnival ride through love, cruelty, self-sabotage, and silliness, and just when you're really getting into the sing-along, it's over.
The verdict: Check it out. This may be the only time you'll sit in a slightly stifling warehouse watching experimental theater and wish it were longer.
You You Shouldn't Come Back continues through Sunday, May 12, at Levine Machine, 605 East Grant Street. Parking is scarce, especially during Chase Field events, and the neighborhood can be sketchy after dark, so bring a buddy and consider public transit. Admission is by donation. Call 602-456-0684 if you must.