Friday, April 7, 2023

"The Closing Night Audience Q&A for ROCCO'S CRIMES" by An Alleged Theatre Company at the Phoenix Theater

If you've been to a post-show discussion, aka talkback, aka Q&A, you know that sometimes they can be really great, and sometimes they can be painfully awkward. And sometimes even both at the same time! New theater company An Alleged Theatre Company plays with that idea in their original play The Closing Night Audience Q&A for ROCCO'S CRIMES. It's a clever conceit that allows them to poke loving fun at this theater thing that we all love so well, and maybe take too seriously sometimes. The cast is delightfully committed to the earnest silliness, showing off a bit of improv skills as well. See it at Phoenix Theater in Uptown this weekend or next weekend only (don't mind the unfinished entry way - it's open!).

This meta theater show begins in the lobby. At showtime we're led into the theater by flustered usher Brandy (Bella Maldonado) and told to quietly enter in the dark because the show has already started. And indeed it has - the closing scene of the famous play Rocco's Crimes plays out as we settle in. After the dramatic conclusion, the house lights come up, and the post-show discussion begins. Andrea Gugg (Steph Callaghan) tells us that she recently left her corporate job to be the Executive Director of this theater company, and is very excited for her first event. She introduces two cast members (played by Sarah Christenson and Jeffrey Nolan) and the assistant director, son of a Tony-winning director (Thomas M. Buan). Sadly the director and star of the show (played by Bryn Tanner in the brief opening/closing scene) are not able to attend. It starts off as a normal Q&A, with Andrea eliciting questions from the audience, from which she quickly deduces we didn't actually see the play. Then the four of them proceed to summarize and reenact scenes of the play, trying to get across the themes (although they don't agree what they are). It's a whole lot of silliness and overacting, through which we see that everyone actually does care about their art.

Bella Maldonado, Thomas M. Buan, and Steph Callaghan
(part of Alleged's clever marketing of the play within the play)
The play is written by Alleged company members Jake Mierva and Danylo Loutchko (who also makes a brief appearance in the last scene of Rocco's Crimes), and directed by Danylo and company member/stage manager Alexandra Pozniack. Maybe the script could have been tightened up a bit to bring it from 90 minutes to 70-80, or maybe that was just my Hamilton hangover. The Rocco's Crimes excerpts are ridiculously funny but also kind of reminiscent of classic mid-20th century dramas. And the non-play scenes play on stereotypes of the over-serious director (with serious daddy issues), the female actor who just wants to play light musical theater roles, and the character actor who's desperate to play the lead. All four actors playing the Q&A participants are very present and reactive, taking audience comments seriously (it's a bit participatory, mostly voluntarily, but maybe don't sit in the front row if you don't want a microphone shoved in your face). Steph as Andrea handles most of the improv, asking the audience for questions and responding to whatever they give her, even if it may not be what she wants or expects, never breaking character. The commitment of the actors really makes the show work.

The beauty of theater in this town is that one night you can see the worldwide phenomenon that is Hamilton with 2500 strangers, and the next night you can see an experimental new work by a group of young artists in a tiny space with a few dozen other adventurous theater-goers. No "allegedly" about it; An Alleged Theatre Company is an actual theater company doing fun, adventurous, entertaining work!