Collapse. Was there ever a more perfect title for a play to open a Renegade Theatre Experiment season which takes on an apocalyptic theme for its 2012-2013 duration? I say no. And, contrary to what the title might indicate, this production’s talent and skillful tech team allowed the play to hold up pretty well under the pressure.
This is a big show with big concepts, on a small stage with a small cast, and I think what struck me the most was the creative staging. Entrances and exits as well as general playing spaces were really limited and the director and lighting designer did a spectacular job of defining spaces and finding creative ways to cope where square footage wasn’t playing nice. Silhouetted action indicating the passage of time while another scene was occurring just a few steps away if done poorly would have been disastrously distracting, instead pictures were “painted” and time passage suggested without taking away from the primary action at any given moment. Vertical levels were utilized expertly where the horizontal was uncooperative and the actors were focused exactly where they needed to be, never allowing us to stray from the immediate location or having to try to hard to “believe” where they were.
The show was a slow boil for me with the real highs (both comedic and dramatic) peaking well past the 1/2 way point. There was a lot of exposition or set up for the big payoff moments and while necessary and well performed, I did wonder if there was a way to get there sooner. I think I was expecting more comedy, and there were laughs, but the drama overpowered the humor in most cases. Not a bad thing at all, just darker and more subtle for the majority it seemed, with the mad cap farce sprinkled in here and there. An odd mix sure, but played well by a strong ensemble who were committed 100% to their individual characters. They all were quite skilled at playing authenticity and glided quite effectively between frenetic neurosis and depressive resignation. From the nuanced creepiness of a lewd but almost under the radar hand gesture to a character’s spot on non-traditional way of sitting on a chair, these actors knew who they were and moved genuinely. Where the plot got a bit cheesy or predictable, the actors combined with solid direction were able to win me over nearly every time.
Normally, in this theatre I’d say sitting in the pit is by far the better option, but for this production, you might actually have a better, big picture view of the action from the first few rows on the main auditorium seats. The show runs short, less than 90 minutes with no intermission and parking in the lot or on the street is plentiful.
This wasn’t quite as strong an over all piece as I was hoping for and expecting, but I think that lies more in the piece itself then this production. The bar for Renegade is admittedly set pretty hight. All in all though a respectable and strong 4 out of 5 jewels in the review tiara for a show with a lot of artistic strength, very much worth the experiment. Collapse runs through September 29th at the Historic Hoover Theatre in San Jose.