Welcome to Your Alternative Reality
Reviewed by Dana Martin
Open Fist Theatre Company at Atwater Village Theatre
Through August 5th
America is fucked. Why not have a good chuckle at our own demise? An ironic, borderline maniacal chuckle, but a good American giggle nonetheless. We can always depend upon our Made-in-America brand of optimism (read: ignorance) to spur us on. Or maybe, just maybe, we’ve purchased a one-way ticket to our collective demise, with none of us willing to unbuckle that safety belt and run down the aisle screaming.
Open Fist Theatre Company’s Welcome to Your Alternate Reality, an evening of short sketches by writer/director team Catherine Butterfield and Ron West, plunges us into an entirely insane alternate reality that somehow feels more logical and sane than the current state of our nation.
Butterfield and West effectively channel their frustration and anger into humor, with their fast-paced sketches covering a wide variety of current news, ranging from healthcare to peaceful protest to cyberattack. The duo keeps the message itself light-hearted, despite the show’s biting undercurrent. Though rarely calling direct attention to the source of our national infection, their point is clear: there’s a festering wound, and deadly unless removed. The direction is sharp, well-paced, clean. The evening is cohesive if a bit long. Given the subject matter, the second act was more depressing than funny.
The ensemble finds the authenticity and heart in the many characters they embody, making the evening of short, mostly stand-alone sketches feel like a journey with an arc — a remarkable feat. It’s one big story told from many different points of view. The actors never take themselves too seriously, but remain dutifully on message. No one presented an annoying caricature, and I took note and was grateful. Josh Banday gave a particularly enjoyable performance, his work subtle when necessary as well as laugh-out-loud funny in other places. Another notable performance was Emily Tunon’s serious turn as Nylah, a news anchor whose familial relationships are strained due to her ethically questionable job demands.
Sound design by Tim Labor serves the play well by maintaining excitement and energy through the many scene shifts. Dan Reed’s lighting design makes good use of blackout, and manages to evoke the play’s underlying rage. Scenic designer James Spencer creates depth and several playing spaces for the scenes with his abstract design.
So buckle up folks, we’re in for one hell of a ride. The world has pulled up a front row seat to our Americanized insanity and we’re powerless against it. Our nation is likened to an out-of-control plane on fire; the pilot has gone crazy, and we’re plunging toward national demise, Only 165 days into our current administration and reality is up for grabs. America is crazy-stupid, our rights and liberties are being unceremoniously ripped away, and all we can do is laugh.
Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 7 p.m.; through Aug. 5th. www.openfist.org. Running time: 2 hours with an intermission.