Thursday, October 23, 2008

Animal Instincts

Without any doubt, the 2008 Presidential election has broken the record for bizarre moments of political theater.  However, nothing quite compares to hearing a candidate bray "Don't say I look like I horse's ass.  I have a horse's ass!"  Of course, this statement can only ring true when the candidate speaking just happens to be a centaur.  

Much political mischief erupted on the stage of the Boxcar Theatre Thursday night when the company premiered its latest work, Animal Kingdom. Directed with gusto by Leah Gardner, this political romp and frolic examines how we react to politicians through the eyes of the legendary three bears and their sulking teenage son, Michael (who has not only become a vegan, but plans to move to Costa Rica so he can embark on a career of training dolphins and maybe even marry one).   

Michael's dad, Papa Bear, is the epitome of a stubborn male father figure who thinks he can order everyone in the family to vote according to his choice.  His mother, Mama Bear, has kind of a thing for one of the up-and-coming candidates and has been going to rallies and leafletting behind her husband's back.  She's tired of cooking porridge, is interested in new recipes for salmon and doesn't mind serving a salad with berries and roots to indulge her son's strict meat-free diet.  Their daughter has little political consciousness and only knows that she loves princesses -- especially if they have wings!

With remarkable timeliness and eerie resemblances to the policies of John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama, the election to determine a new ruler for the Animal Kingdom has narrowed down to the following three choices:

The Fairy Princess strongly supports public nudity, free Heartgard for every Animal citizen, and shelters for feral cats but is adamantly opposed to wishing for three extra wishes, school dress codes, and fur coats.  The fact that she's been lying in a coma inside a casket for the past 25 years (until the mean old queen who put her under a spell died while picking poisoned apples at her new timeshare in Boca Raton), doesn't seem to bother her one bit or stop her from assuming that she deserves to rule.

Lionhearted is an extremely macho and outspokenly militaristic candidate with a nasty habit of occasionally devouring his bovine speechwriters and campaign staff.   Claiming to stand for family values (while positioning himself as the "safe candidate"), he strongly supports "No Cub Left Behind," an animal/fairy trade agreement (AFTA), and school feed trough programs for piglets.  Although he appeals to legions of proud and stubbornly uninformed older male voters, Lionhearted opposes poaching for pleasure, dragon infidel uprisings, and speed limits for cheetahs.

Last, but certainly not least, the Young Prince hopes to lead the Animal Kingdom toward a more civilized society while strongly supporting the development of dung empire and oat bags for the poor.  Wholeheartedly opposed to cannibalism, he is ardently against the domestication of people, interspecies marriage and all blood sports. The most handsome and likeable of the three candidates, the Young Prince is a firm believer in eating one's own feces.

All of these candidates are struggling to find a solution to the growing shortage of magic dust which has powered the Animal Kingdom under the reign of the mean old queen.  After they present their platforms to potential voters, not only does the audience get to vote, the results of the election are posted online within 12 hours of each performance.
Simply stated, this is a show that every political junkie (more than a few  reside in San Francisco) must see.  The writing is wonderfully droll, keenly insightful, and makes superb use of fairy tale mythology to examine the current political landscape.  

With most of the cast performing multiple roles, I was particularly impressed by Boxcar's co-artistic dirctor, Nick Olivero (Lionheart, Papa Bear) who also did the costume and sound design. Zoe Conner scored strong points with the audience as Mama Bear and the Evil Queen.  Jeremy Forbing was an obvious audience favorite as the centaur-like Young Prince and brooding teenage anarchist, Mike Bear. Kelsey Custard lent support as Baby Bear and the Fairy Princess while Sarah Korda, Stephanie Renee Maysonave and co-artistic director Peter Matthews played a wide variety of supporting and often hilarious roles including campaign cows, advisory owls, and elephant news commentators.

A decidedly good time was had by all.

If Boxcar Theatre can maintain this level of artistic vision throughout its fairy-tale-themed season (which includes Edward Albee's The American Dream, Where The Sidewalk Ends (a modernization of Shel Silverstein's children's stories), an updated version of Euripides' Ion, and Rent Boy Avenue: A "Fairy's" Tale (a modern day reworking of Hansel & Gretel) they will have one helluva successful year.

* * * * * * *

Before heading over to the Boxcar Theatre, I spent some time at Landmark's Lumiere on California Street, getting reacquainted with Callback: The Unmaking of Bloodstain.  I first had a chance to see this twisted and very funny indie gem nearly two years ago at a private screening given by the folks at Thick House because some of their actors were in the film.  Made on a shoestring budget, Callback recently got a one-week theatrical release from Landmark Theatres. Hope and pray this is a sign that the film will eventually get released on DVD because you don't want to miss it.

I don't know whether to describe it as a mockumentary, a sick joke, or just a brilliant piece of writing, but Callback is one of those guilty pleasures for indie film fans.  It basically shows how everything that could possibly go wrong does so -- to  spectacular effect -- during the making of a small-scale movie.  

Among the three leads cast in Bloodstain are Peter (a confused, broke, heterosexual actor who is trying to stay afloat by working at a gay phone sex company when not starring in Hamlet, My Homie), Carl (a small-time dimwitted thug who doesn't want to carry a gun but thinks he can act), and Tony (a manic depressive schizophrenic who has been released from a mental care facility but, in order to get an acting job, has stopped taking his antipsychotic medications).
Johnny Moreno in Callback: The Unmaking of Bloodstain

What sets Callback apart from many other indie films is the fact that there isn't an ounce of fat in the final product.  It boasts a wonderful script, some brilliant editing, and a supremely talented cast.  

Jeff Parise delivers a knockout performance as the confused, demented Tony with co-writer Michael DeGood's Carl and co-producer Johnny Moreno's sexy Peter offering solid backup. Others in the talented ensemble include Kate Orsini as Marci (the aspiring filmmaker who gets mugged by Peter and, after connecting the dots, takes vengeance on him while directing Bloodstain), Jennifer Hall as Jill (the clueless intern who gets romantically involved with the crazed Tony), Burnadeen Jones as Carl's social-climbing girlfriend Beth, and the hilarious Michelle Begley as Moana, the owner of a gay phone sex service.  Megan Schoenbachler's cinematography is a major contribution to the immaculate look of the production.

I was disappointed to see that director/co-writer Eric H. Wolfson had cut the hilarious scene in which the clueless Peter tries to show a house to a young couple acting as potential buyers (whose real goal is to score a three-way with a willing realtor in someone else's home). However, the final product is such an obvious labor of love (created by a group of actors who have been thoroughly humiliated by the Los Angeles film industry's casting process) that I can't recommend this film highly enough.  You can watch the trailer here.

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