Monday, August 16, 2004

Fringe Day 9, Part 6 - August 15, 2004, 10:00pm

Six Steps Part Deux
Illusion Theater

This is a case in which the sequel for me is better than the original.

I liked last year's show well enough, but it didn't wow me. This year's script is more the writing of Brent Doyle that I'm familiar with - sharp, funny, filled with clever allusions to current political hijinks, and still just entertaining on its own terms as a spoof on superheroes and supervillains (including the U.S. government).

Since it's been a year, I frankly was just a little lost at first - why are they in prison? (for instance)

Mostly I tried to just go with the flow and not require the whole thing to make perfect sense. Even though it ran long, just like the Illusion Fringe show before it, the script was still trying to cram in a whole lot of material in a very short time. Because so much of the material, and the acting, was so good, I was willing to let quite a few things slide as long as the larger picture held together, which it did.

The U.S. agents gunning for information (even, perhaps especially, fake information) on France so they could start bombing it was great. The repeated discourse on the torture of prisoners to extract information, though cartoonish in tone, nonetheless hit its mark. I'd say these would be funnier if they weren't so true, but it seems, for me anyway, and most of the audience around me, they were funnier because they *were* true. I guess we'd rather all laugh than cry about it. Much of the play worked on this additional level and this was why I think it was more successful as an entertainment than last year's installment.

Or maybe the heroes and villains are just a lot clearer and easier to spot this year in general.

The numerous battle sequences were a kitschy, Batman-esque hoot. These additional sequences of the characters in action, rather than inaction, helped the entertainment quotient as well in comparison to the first installment.

And just when you think it's taken a very dark turn from which it will never recover (not that this would be a bad thing, just sad, and earned by both script and performers), we get a deus ex machina which allows us to leave on a more positive note. I'm still a little conflicted about that. While I'm grateful that the conclusion didn't end up looking like something out of the last act of "Hamlet," since there is no easy answer in real life, should there be in the fake world?

(Damn, I guess there's just no pleasing me. This does, however, mean that I'm not finding the script or the questions it raises as easily dismissable as I did last year. Kudos for not giving my brain any peace this time. I'd rather have theatre that sticks in my craw, and the possibility of another sequel this smart and funny, than sit through an hour I can quickly forget.)

The Illusion folks did manage to get us in pretty quickly after the previous show's over-extended length (all hail in particular to the stage crew for a rapid-fire changeover) and the show only started six minutes late, and only ran over an hour by an additional seven minutes. Longer evening that I expected at the Illusion, but they provided the entertainment to make it worthwhile.

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