Review: Action Philosophers! The Play
In our era of Existential angst, ain’t it time that we make time to laugh at our messy human selves? If you’re ready for a good dose of some of that and just in time for New York Comic Con this weekend, join the folks at the much-lauded Brick Theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with the award-winning Impetuous Theater Group’s production of Crystal Skillman’s [[[Action Philosophers!]]], directed by John Hurley, based upon the comic books of the same name written by Fred Van Lente (married to the playwright) and illustrated by Ryan Dunlavey (reviewed here plus interview with Fred last year). First mounted for the Comic Book Theater Festival in June, this retooled upgrade has 50% new cast.
You’d think that turning a truly comic book into a comedy would be a piece of cake! Wrong-o-roonie! As the dynamic duo of Skillman & Hurley discovered, it’s a challenge. But they kept this Philosophy professor very happy (they could pass my mid-term!). The result: it’s philosophical history a la Monty Python on Crack. Fasten your safety belts and keep your arms in the ride at all times.
They do a lot with a little at Brick: seats about 50 (full house), bare walls, black accoutrements, basic costumes and tech—perfect for comic book transmogrification (graphic frames with theatre vignette continuity). The whole trick with comics is that the imagery is kept simple so that the reader/audience can imprint their own selves onto the characters and action: interactive. This audience was interactive and the actors, directing, and writing all fostered that. They Plato-Smashed the 4th wall many times and to good effect. Hilarity ensued. The sets, themselves, consisted of a wall with the frenetic red-and-yellow cover of vol. 1 of the earlier 3-vol. omnibus edition of the comic projected thereon plus 2 adjacent walls in the black/yellow block format of the cover of last year’s more-than-complete one-volume omnibus (with philosophers added, such as Rumi) and between which the actors popped in and out like a classic sock-it-to-me segment of Laugh-In. And the simple, Let’s-put-on-a-show costumes make the actors look like the illustrations they’re drawing from. Add a soundtrack worthy of the movies (e.g.,Verdi’s Dies Irae for Marx, John Williams’ Superman theme for Nietzsche) and other classic movie references (Ayn Rand’s, pronounced Ein as in the ultimate godhead of the Kabbalah, paraphrase from Gone With the Wind).
The rest is the artists’ Looney Tunes wiliness and plenty of it…Little Rascals, Three Stooges, WWE-level slapstick. Beavis & Butthead, South Park irreverence. It seems targeted to the inner 12 year old and that’s what makes it work (lots of WTF moments)! But this show is not for the under-12 set, folks: includes sexual innuendo and bad words…then again, the kids’ve probably heard/seen it before or it’ll fly over their heads if they’re young enough, and if they’re old enough to Get It, they’re old enough to see this. It’s shtick, but it’s intelligent-as-hell shtick. This is a glorious gathering of geeks.
Lest we forget that this would not come to life without the cast of much-decorated actors with all of them taking on multiple roles (incl. each philosopher’s henchminions Greek chorus). Kristen Vaughan as Rand gets the real-life, helter-skelter of that character’s psyche in-your-face (and her totally non-PC rendering of the Chinese Emperor is also to die for). Matthew Trumbull’s Descartes is the French guy in the castle from Holy Grail, complete with outrageous French accent and wardrobe malfunctions (mustache, wig). Lots of improv going on in controlled mayhem. Neimah Djourabchi’s Bodhidharma makes Jackie Chan look like a Stoic (he also does a very good professor). The Pythagoreans as pint-sized geeks (think SNL’s geeks) are brilliant, and Weatherstone’s Plato in Sicily to the music of The Godfather is inspired. Timothy McCown Reynold’s Nietzsche as flying-around (by way of his colleagues’ carrying him even into the audience…smash!) Superman-Ubermensch is so ridiculously true. Socrates as a stoned-out hippie with hippie minions (including Aristotle) is priceless. Props to the writers and the actors for being able to spout huge blocks of expository philosophy, distill it down correctly, and not lose the comedic rhythm and pacing of the show or the audience (which may or may not know anything about philosophy: all types attended).
Fly your super-hero selves out to see this before it disappears into the philosophic ether! And stay for the end credits, kiddies, or you’ll miss a great cameo in the superhero movie tradition! No spoilers!
The Brick Theater is located at 575 Metropolitan Ave., L train to Lorimer or G to Metropolitan Ave. www.bricktheater.com 718-907-6189 Group outings of teachers, students, geeks, and writers encouraged.