Cowboys, Ninjas and Robots, Oh My!: THE VALENTINE TRILOGY

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Photo credit to Julie Fox; all super heroes should be required to sing.

Presented by The Circuit Theatre Company
Directed by Skylar Fox

August 2 – 17, 2013
Roberts Studio Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts
Boston, MA
Circuit Theatre Co Facebook Page

Review by Noe Kamelamela

(Boston) There is no such thing as too much thought-provoking theatre.  Sadly, the Circuit Theatre Company’s season must come to an end this weekend.  Their current production of The Valentine Trilogy is a massive and ambitious theatre explosion that ends the summer with an epic bang.  San Valentino and the Melancholy Kid, The Curse of the Crying Heart and Valentine Victorious! are the titles of the three separate plays in which a hero is forged to defeat a great evil across space, time . . . and genre.

The 3 plays are summer blockbuster films in musical theatre form. Circuit Theatre Co’s trilogy (created and starred in by the multi-talented Nathan Allen years ago at the House Theatre of Chicago) rocked out to a soundtrack larger than life.  The backing band and cast delivered heartfelt performances of country, rock and ska. The Roberts Studio Theatre shook visibly under the force of all that rocking.  At times, unamplified actors and audience reactions were inaudible behind walls of sound.

I watched a marathon run, which meant that I witnessed the end results in real-time of technical wizardry and fast wrangling of the set and cast into an entire other genre. Quick transitions pepped up the physical comedy and energized the mood changes from scene to scene. Much of the weakness regarding sound design was more than made up for by the enthusiasm of the ensemble. The young and energetic cast and crew took on the challenge of adaptation to different genres capably.

The premises for the spaghetti western, samurai flick and superhero movie shows are solid while the plots are thin.  Homage was paid to each genre while playing up the well-known stereotypes for tongue-in-cheek laughs.  Circuit Theatre Co also decided to explore the outer realms of what is possible with such material during mostly human-powered pieces.

The employment of classic stagecraft deserves serious respect, especially in an age of fancy rotating mechanical stages, wirework and so much machinery.  Much of the low tech workarounds are well-executed, employed puppetry, live unamplified sound. Set pieces and timing kept the shows from dragging.  In a way, the scurrying, carrying (sometimes of each other), resetting and general constant movement of secondary cast and crew during scenes read as its own character:  the frenetic parallel worlds forcing the protagonist to change.  Inventive staging was informed by filmic sensibilities.  The cast and band were directed to create fully realized set pictures which utilized the designs by Christopher Annas-Lee without dominating them.

Standouts in the fantastic ensemble include the versatile Justin Phillips, who exhibited great control over his accent and full physical transformations beyond costume and makeup into a different person for each show.  He was rarely recognizable.  Similarly, though often in smaller roles, Edan Laniado made each of his characters unique.  Ryan Vona has a lovely voice, and is a hearthrob, a teenage dream, as the title character.  The younger, and the young at heart in the audience fanned themselves furiously as he flung himself full tilt into the role of several lifetimes, or at least three.

Each show shared similar high and low points, but I greatly enjoyed The Curse of the Crying Heart over the other two (hint hint, go and watch it either this Thursday or this Saturday).  I grew up watching Zatoichi reruns from the 1970s on public TV and similar media.  It was delightful to watch a quirky tribute to chanbara which is closer to Harakiri (1969) than Ghost Dog (1999).  Edan Laniado and Natalie McDonald play very well together as an elderly husband and wife entrusted with sacred duties.   All of the actors took part in exuberant stage combat and physical feats which filled the audience with joy and amusement.  You will clap and cheer for the most adorable ninja in the land if you go.

The maturity level of the entire show is about PG-13, never R, but I would only recommend it for mature young adults, as there is a lot of onstage death.  Mentions of sexuality are obscured by slang, but even the five year olds I watched it with knew something weird is going on.  These shows are really meant for wry adults who want a great night or day out, which is why it is a boon to the theatre-going public that all three plays are being presented in one run.

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