Another year, another Unproducible Smackdown brought to you by Studio 42, the bold company led by artistic director Moritz von Stuelpnagel. The second annual event hit Speyer Hall full force this past Saturday evening. As advertised, the Smackdown is “a night of no-holds-barred theater showcasing the most Unproducible short plays, brought to you by the town’s most daring playwrights, all battling it out before an audience to be crowned the most Unproducible of them all.”
There were a few notable changes from last year’s Smackdown. First, the playwrights had to include just three elements (dancing, evolution, Yoko Ono) as opposed to last year’s slightly more challenging four components. In a very wise turn, any play going over ten minutes would have points deducted per minute. Also a surprise: none of last year’s playwrights -- arguably the hottest in town, ranging from Bekah Brunsetter to Crystal Skillman -- returned to the 2013 Smackdown. Although this offering of plays lacked the sharpness and truly edgy plotlines of 2012’s roster, the evening as a whole was gratifying, whacky entertainment. Plus, with free wine and beer all night, Stu42 knows how to treat their guests.
Up first is “Not Your Time” by Mike Lew and directed by Jaime Castaneda. The play features Jo Mei as Yoko Ono while Liz Wisan and Rob Askins competed to present Ono with the most unproducible concept. The premise definitely wears thin after a few minutes, although it’s great fun to see a game Askins take the text so seriously.
The second entry is Meghan Deans’ “Poorly Researched History Play,” directed by Erik Pearson. Deans’ play actually has a compelling structure: Allyson Morgan plays one role while Risa Sarachan is a bevy of other parts, announcing (in the most brilliant deadpan ever) who she is at all times. Sarachan’s pointed work makes ‘Poorly Researched’ a standout.
Rounding out Act One is “Smackdown Dancedown,” written by Erica Saleh and directed by Nick Leavens. The blood flows and the fake penises come out to play in easily the most consistently funny piece (and – finally! – one that seems genuinely unproducible). With Leavens perfectly orchestrating the action of Saleh’s witty script, I’m certain ‘Dancedown’ would have come out on top had this group not gone over time.
Post-intermission is Charise Castro Smith’s “Dance Dance Evolution,” directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh. ‘Evolution’ features the performance of the night: Alex Herrald proves himself a master of subtlety in a genius interpretation of Yoko Ono. The massive sunglasses. The strange noises. The cooky walk. Beyond brilliant. The play most cleverly involves one of the elements, claiming that Beyonce is the highest form of human evolution. And bonus points for an Audience Involvement segment in which we danced along with the actors.
Closing out the night is the messiest entry, J. Holtham’s “She Drove it Like She Stole It, Fast, With a Multitude of Casualties,” directed by Julie Foh. I knew this wasn’t going to be like the others as soon as the tarp paper came to cover audience members in the front row. With two men flopping around a sticky stage, ketchup splattering as blood and dialogue like “I have an idea, let’s fuck,” this play is unproducible, yes, but also out of control. There were times I was truly worried for the actors’ safety and the shenanigans lasted a tad too long.
After the nifty text-message voting (and with the penalty points deducted), “Poorly Researched History Play” was announced as the winner. “Smackdown and “Dance Dance” were my two favorites, but “Poorly Researched” did admirably adhere to the time challenge.
That’s all she wrote for this year’s Smackdown. Until 2014’s Smackdown, check www.stu42.com for information on Studio 42's productions.