Friday, August 15, 2008

Absurdist Adventures

Have you ever felt as if your life were getting a little bit too strange? That you couldn't communicate with people? That you were living in The Twilight Zone?

It happens more often than you think. Sometimes real life gets too close for comfort. Sometimes science fiction gets too close to real life. As someone who has always had a very active imagination, I learned how to cope with my hyperactive dream life many years ago while watching a Grade Z thriller.

In this film, the detective found himself chasing down a criminal who, strangely enough, kept leaving clues for the detective in his dreams. As the detective alternated between his sleep state and his awake state, he kept finding more and more clues which could help him solve the case --but never got a chance to nab the murderer.

Why not?

In one of his dreams, he was shot and killed by an assassin. That night -- in real life -- the detective died in his sleep.

Sometimes you really do have to pinch yourself to make sure you're not dreaming. However, if you're a triple threat talent like Scott Prendergast, you reach out and continue to pinch your audience to remind them exactly whose nightmare it is that they find so damned entertaining.

Prendergast is the author, director and star of Kabluey, a small indie gem that is so much better than Sideways (2004), Little Miss Sunshine (2006), and Juno (2007) that it's a shame it hasn't had a stronger theatrical run. The buzz along the festival circuit was that Kabluey was an odd film, but a very sweet one. I found it to be remarkably intelligent, achingly funny, and full of strange, but wonderful insights into the empty evils of corporate collapse in the era and the soul-scorching shallowness of suburban life.

Prendergast plays Salman, a total loser who is called into action when his depressed and overstressed sister-in-law (Lisa Kudrow) realizes that if she doesn't go back to work, she'll lose the family's healthcare benefits while her husband is off fighting in Iraq. Unemployed after a string of hilarious work-related disasters, Salman arrives to take care of Leslie's two horrifically obnoxious rug rats from hell, (Landon Henninger and Cameron Wofford) who don't waste any time in expressing total contempt for their hopeless and pathetic uncle.

Realizing that Salman is not helping matters, Leslie sends him out on an interview that leads to a job as a corporate mascot for a failed company named BluNexion. Although I won't give away any more plot points, you really want to get your hands on a copy of this film as soon as it goes to DVD. It is one of those quiet gems that not only has wit and heart, but ends on a rare note of -- dare I say it -- decency. Kabluey gives Prendergast an impressive directing debut with his first full-length feature as well as a great starring role that showcases his comedic talent. The film boasts some hilarious moments from Chris Parnell, Teri Garr, and the always great Conchata Ferrell.

If you think life sucks on earth today, you should take a little trip into the future with the Crowded Fire Theater Company's production of The Listener. Directed by Kent Nicholson, this new play by Liz Duffy Adams has settled in at Berkeley's Ashby Stage for the second half of its six-week run.

If you thought Pixar's Wall-E was a triumph of recycled junk, you need to see Melpomene Katakalos' brilliant set for Junk City, Planet Earth (which is filled with the detritus of our pop/tech culture). Nicholson has cleverly used the set for The Listener to create one of the best stage entrances I've seen in 50 years of theatergoing.

In Adams' play, most of the earth's inhabitants have long since fled to the moon (now called "Nearth"). Only a handful of confused humans remains behind. Arriving back on earth to see what remains, John is captured by two low-level grunts who scavenge through junk to find items which can be identified by The Namer. Jelli and Smak communicate in a futuristic slang which obviously sets them below Namer and Listener in rank. Their discovery of John provokes plenty of violence, confusion, and possessiveness which, as it boils to the surface of Junk City, tests the faith and wisdom of both Listener and Namer.

Photo: Melpomene Katakalos

The Listener slyly examines the challenges of communication, the roots of knowledge, the shaky underpinnings of perceived truths, the inherent dangers of trust, and the power of intellect in a primitive society. Created and performed by a tightly knit and fiercely secure ensemble, the performance I attended featured Juliet Tanner in the title role, Michael Sommers as Namer and Cole Alexander Smith as John. Rami Margron and Michael Moran excelled as the energetic Jelli and Smak.

Photo: Melpomene Katakalos

Attending a performance of The Listener on the night of a full moon only enhanced the theatricality of Adams' writing. Check it out.

1 comment:

tiffany said...

So glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for the write up.