Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Episodes of BRASS - nuggets of good stuff amid a bit of chaos

Fatal Footsteps (Dave Hastings)
BRASS: Fatal Footlights
Theater Schmeater
Through April 30, 2016

There is a media conglomerate building, called BRASS. The brainchild of writers John Longenbaugh and Louis Broome, it includes radio and podcast episodes (via KIXI 880AM), stage presentations like the episode Fatal Footlights, now appearing at Theater Schmeater, and film. Their website is www.battlegroundproductions.org.

The stage presentation at The Schmee has some charming elements, including a lot of fun stage jokes. An example, the narrator, George Bernard Shaw (Matthew Middleton), questions what the audience would think of such a bare set without various pieces of furniture and even a door, and then instructs the audience to imagine them.
 
The set designed by Madisen Crowley is pretty spare, but has a rustic look and a couple of good-looking steampunk elements that work. Although there were several awkward scene changes that included people walking out, unrolling and holding up a sheet upon which shadow puppetry and 3-D special effects were performed.

This sums up the essential feeling of the evening: some funny moments, bits of awkward staging, and what might be called the bare essentials of a play. The story is very disjointed and moves around in time. Trying to understand what the budding mystery is means one has to untangle who the characters are and what their role is or is not in the mystery. The script builds in farcical elements, as well as the steampunk era reworking of history.

I happened to read a few pages taped to the stage door wall before the play began. That made what was going to happen on stage much more understandable, and it was not something that was included in the program. It described the real history (who the real, famous actress Ellen Terry was, that Oscar Wilde’s first play was rejected by virtually everyone, and some background on Bram Stoker, the stage entrepreneur and eventual writer of Dracula).

What one has to do as an audience member is to accept that, in this world, Wilde’s (Tadd Morgan) first play is being done by Ellen Terry (Nikki Visel), though everyone still seems to believe that it’s pretty terrible! And on top of that, there is a mystery where people are dying and threats are appearing by magic that say more people will die unless the play is cancelled before opening night!

Finally, there are two Brass family members, Cyril (Jeremy Adams) and Gwendolyn (Katherine Grant-Suttie) who are there to investigate the murders and try to stop the murder. In order to find out, they join the acting troupe.

There is a lot going on. It’s a very large cast, 13, to keep track of and Visel ends up leading the cast as the grande dame. The cast is game, though a few of them are so engrossed in their accents that they are barely understandable. Luckily, they aren’t usually the ones that carry the plot points.

It’s possible that opening weekend is early in the settling period and that the whole piece will gel. However, it does seem like the script could use more refinement, less erratic jumping around, and perhaps more exposition that allows it to stand on its own rather than be an apparent “episode” of this larger effort. People don’t come to theater for part of an experience; they want to feel like they are there for a full event.

A nugget of possibility remains evident, and some jokes land well. If Longenbaugh would allow a veteran director to work with him, instead of taking on that role in future, the jewel inside might lose more dross and be more visible.

For more information, go to www.schmeater.org or call 206-324-5801.