Thursday, August 07, 2014

Sparkly – if long – comedy, “Balconies” bubbles at Annex

Katherine Karaus, Drew Highlands, Evelyn DeHais in Balconies (photo Dangerpants Photography)
Written by Scotto Moore
Through August 30, 2014

Opposites attract premises, particularly the conservative/liberal variety could be kind of eye-rolling, but at the hands of playwright Scotto Moore, it turns out to be a whole lot more fun than hackneyed. His newest work, Balconies, at Annex Theatre, has many of his signature elements: fast-paced dialogue, high tech speak, agile plot devices.

Instead of a just-ahead-of-its-time future fantasy (Moore’s previous works), this play stays rooted in 2014, but makes fun of a Scientology-type cult and lets the geeks win. Characters who, at first glance, seem stereotypically boring turn out to be a whole lot quirkier than their book-cover.

Cameron (Drew Highlands) is having a best-launch-ever party in his condo for Sparkle Dungeon 5. (I would love for that game to become a reality!) He’s invited dozens of geek friends in costume. But just next condo over, Annalise (Katherine Karaus) is hosting a fund-raiser for her politician mother (Laura Hanson), politicians including the Chief of Police, and a key funder, Lonso (Jason Sharp), a creepy world-thought-dominator.

Cameron is too shy to introduce himself to Annalise, and at first, we can’t even understand why he’d be so attracted. However, Karaus’ smooth arcing of character allows Annalise to turn out to be way more Cameron’s type than we thought. But Annalise has a boyfriend, a celebrity caught in the grip of Lonso’s crazy “religion.” Annalise tries to rebel when she realizes Cody (Tadd Morgan) really wants out, but lawsuits and money troubles loom.

Moore directed his play and he knows what he wants pretty thoroughly, so production elements, technical ones in particular, work beautifully. However, there are really way too many characters, even for a play that assumes dozens of people inside the condos that we never see. The Mayor, the Chief of Police, characters named Morning Bell, DJ Luscious, Cordelia and Cynthia are completely unnecessary and slow the entire evening down. Tweaking these out of the script might save the draggy 15 minutes, and change virtually none of the plot. Arika Gloud as duel singer characters is a good actress but not a good enough singer, and the musical interludes are uninteresting. There are also two endings, and the second one is unnecessary.

The rest of the play moves briskly and most of the characters are fun to get to know. In particular, Cameron’s friends, Gabby (Pilar O’Connell) and Sophie (Evelyn DeHais), and the Security Head Brick (Mike Gilson) are great characters and well done. The plot elements, how the legal issues impact Annalise, her mother, Cody, and the repercussions, are smart and promise enough mischief that we believe the characters are in some danger. The technical solutions are also smart, and unexpected in some ways, allowing some surprises.

The set is cleanly minimal of two balconies next to each other, and more of the amazing, “simple” work of Robin Macartney. (I am becoming a big fan.) Costumes by Cami Funk are entirely appropriate for each set of balcony inhabitants, with the costume-wearing folks truly outrageous in fun ways. Lights and sound by Carolina Johnson and Kyle Thompson support the play well.

This is smart and funny theater and a great choice for summer fun. The description of Sparkle Dungeon makes me long for someone to really create the game, especially since it is said to be for little kids. The geeks are so much fun on their own that I also long for a play just about them. I just warn you that Annex does not have air-conditioning, so wear removable layers, or few clothes, and avail yourself of the ice at concessions.

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