Friday, Nov. 6, 2009

A Night At The Movies

Theatre Gigante's Tribute to Cinema

By Russ Bickerstaff
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It’s kind of staggering to think about the amount of money spent on the average Hollywood movie. The catering budget alone on some nameless romcom or actioner or whatever would probably pay for a fair number of local small budget studio theatre productions not unlike Theatre Gigante’s current production A Night At The Movies. It’s a double-feature of captivating semi-features in the ancient tradition of live theatre inspired by that relatively new art form of the motion picture.

The evening opens with Malcolm Tulip’s ...and Action! It plays like something of an experimental deconstruction of the acting end of a motion picture. We get to see live, abstract and iconic stage renderings of all the staccato repetition that goes into the auditioning, rehearsal, editing and presentation of a narrative motion picture. On one level, it’s really interesting. But if you’re not actively thinking about it can end up feeling a lot like a cross between an audition, a rehearsal and a live performance complete with a living studio theatre audience. This isn’t entirely a bad thing. It’s actually a very novel experience, particularly if you’re prepared for a particularly experimental look at one of the most popular narrative art forms in history. Theatre’s been around for a very, very long time. Motion pictures have been around for a very brief blip of time respectively. At times …and Action! feels like the older art form’s criticism of the heart and soul of narrative film; the acting.

The performance plays out as we see two actors and one actress go from what appears to be the initial stages of what feels like an open audition to rehearsals, filming and some approximation of the look and feel of a finished motion picture in remarkable detail and a fair amount of the aforementioned repetition. As it does feel like a live, pre-scripted deconstruction of the actor’s end of the filmmaking process, there are moments here that would seem really, really tedious were it not for the fact that the cast onstage is really, really good.


Isabelle Kralj, Mark Anderson and John Kishline star as the three people auditioning. Each of the three has a unique and interesting stage presence that draws the human element of the script across quite vividly. The hopes and concerns of three different people essentially looking for work comes across as much in unspoken glances and silent behavior as it does in straight ahead dialogue. Kralj, Anderson and Kishline deliver the script in kind of a music without melody that mixes pre-recorded internal monologues with casual dialogue with casual dialogue that’s written into the script that the actors being played by the actors are auditioning and performing from.    It’s all kind of strange and hypnotic.    And since this was inspired in part by Warhol’s 1960’s screen tests, there are shades of Andy in here as well. It’s a challenging, ambitious piece that in many ways reaches for a kind of humanity that no screen can hold. Its far from flawless, but it IS celebrating those human flaws that happen between the 24 frames that pass by every second in tens of thousands of multiplex screens all over the world.


The show breaks for intermission after Tulip’s piece to return with David Gaines’ one-man tribute to Akria Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai. One has to respect Gaines’ sense of economy—he’s cut down a story with a cast of over 100 credited actors that takes place over the course of roughly 2.5 hours and has managed to edit it down to one actor performing for roughly one hour. As one might expect, it’s intended to be very comic and it is. Gaines takes Kurosawa most acclaimed film—the single most successful Japanese film of all time . . . and playfully brings it to the stage in a comic style that ends up feeling even a bit more commercial than the original. Gaines’ 7 (x1) Samurai quickly tells the story of a ragged pack of five warriors protecting a small farming community from a rampaging pack of brigands. The comedy comes across with explosive energy, but there are also some really brilliant flashes of heroism in Gaines’ performance of the title characters. The drama of the heroism comes across, but Gaines hasn’t put quite as much drama in the villainy of the brigands. They largely come across as being comic. The more serious end of the heroism (and a truly cinematic ending) end up being a bit compromised by the lack of compellingly serious villainy.

There is almost no dialogue. It’s all done in mime. Gaines is a truly gifted mime or this wouldn’t even remotely begin to work. The mind of Gaines’ mime feels like a cross between Chaplin and animator Chuck Jones. It’s wacky. It’s comical. And It’s a lot of fun. And while there are some relatively dead spaces in the performance, they’re fleeting. Those brief dead moments where one may be tempted to check the a watch or cell phone for the time serve only to underscore what a truly remarkable performer Gaines’ is. It's just him up there with almost no props and he can hold an audience's attention quite well.

That being said, the humor of what Gaines is doing does get a bit tiresome towards the end of the performance. Visual comic fatigue may happen for those with less of a tolerance for physical comedy. In spite of any flaws, it’s a remarkable performance and well worth a look--a study in how a single person can make a room laugh without saying a word.

Theatre Gigante’s A Night At The Movies runs through this Saturday (November 7th) at the Off Broadway Theatre on 342 North Water Street.

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