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Posted Oct 3, 2012, 9:26 pm
There are no words for “MixTape,” the opening salvo in retooling Live Theatre Workshop’s Etcetera franchise. That’s because most of the performance is in dance or mime. The only words, aside from appropriated songs that accompany some of the skits, are in a short interlude by musical accompanist and sound coordinator Michael Martinez, who is also LTW’s executive director.
The show is conceived, written and performed by Matt Walley and Angela Horchem, with original music by Martinez. Walley and Horchem also handled props, costumes and sound design.
Etcetera was founded as the late night arm of Live Theatre Workshop, but with the departure of artistic director Christopher Johnson, who helmed the program for the past five years, LTW is retooling the brand. Etcetera previously offered edgy, experimental works with an eye to the over-caffeinated literati and hipsters likely to make up a theatre audience for shows starting at 10:30 p.m. on a Friday or Saturday.
While still keeping an eye towards experimentation, LTW is offering “MixTape” during regular hours, including Sunday matinees.
An amalgamation of skits
“MixTape,” as its name implies, is an amalgamation of skits, rather than a traditional play. The 13 vignettes are tied together mostly by Walley’s clown character. He first appears loading a trunk up on stage, from which he takes out the show’s subsequent props – a bucket, glasses of water, a drooping flower, etc. – before unpacking Horchem who is also inside. Walley plays a sad clown, good-hearted but perplexed, with a touch of Stan Laurel in his simpleton discomfort.
Horchem plays a more eclectic series of roles: cleaning lady, dancer, old man, in addition to playing partner to Walley.
Descriptions of the individual skits, performed in mime and/or dance, don’t do them justice, mostly because they are built around a simple idea or joke that comes alive in performance. For example, “Time Stands Still,” is a skit with Walley trying to water his drooping flower. He eventually creates rain, using an umbrella, a bottle of water and a child’s wading pool, all to fill a small tin cup with the runoff and save the dying plant. You’d have to see it to realize how hilarious he makes the execution of this circus routine.
In another routine, "The Hat That…(part two)," a song starts whenever someone puts on a hat. This becomes the germ for an improve as Walley silently entices various audience members up on stage to don the derby. The fun part is each person’s reaction to the music that they supposedly inspire, since Walley knows the sequence and can select candidates to evoke maximum laughs from songs like “I’m Too Sexy For My Shirt” or “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party).”
Walley is a faculty member in Theatre at the University of Arizona. However, the more relevant bit of his résumé is his more than 500 stunt shows with the Pinnacle Peak Pistoleros. His comic timing, improvisational skills, especially interacting with the audience, and, taking advantage of the intimate LTW space, his exceptionally expressive face, were a constant delight.
Horchem is the new artistic director for Etcetera. Her vignettes tended to be more abstract works. In one of her dance sequences, “Choose,” she mimed using a hula hoop, evolving into an endless circuit of exercise routines, accompanied by an electronica soundtrack.
Martinez also contributes an interlude titled “Imagine,” an exercise in guided imagery. He asks the audience to close their eyes and describes a inconclusive narrative with the audience encouraged to fill in their own endings.
But is it ‘theater?’
As a Theater of the Absurd aficionado, I am also a fan of its antecedents, including commedia dell’arte (in which both Walley and Horcham are specifically trained), vaudeville and the circus. All are represented in “MixTape.”
As much as I personally enjoyed the evening, “MixTape” may not satisfy theatre-goers looking for traditional theatrical elements, i.e. dialogue or plot. Watching a sequence of skits is not the same as watching a play.
The opening night audience, which included school-age kids who would not have been admitted to some of the old late night Etcetera, was delighted by the show. And indeed, there was plenty to enjoy as pure entertainment.
So if the notion of “MixTape” appeals, by all means go during its short run, if for no other reason that to watch Walley demonstrate his mastery of comedy. The low $10 admission makes it especially appealing. However, if you’re looking for Ibsen or Arthur Miller, this isn’t it.