BWW Review: A Cerebral Tribute to Freaky, Fringe Theatre with Copious Love's THE FOG MACHINE PLAY
What an inside joke this one was!
"The Fog Machine Play" is a very smart toast to Seattle fringe theatre written and produced by a Seattle fringe theatre company, Copious Love Productions.
The show is sneaky. From the get go, it very successfully blurs the lines between which moments were staged, and which were impromptu. Once it's clear that the show has actually begun, and the technical difficulties were staged, the audience is already in the theatrical matrix, so to speak, and distinguishing between actual technical malfunctions and staged technical malfunctions becomes near impossible.
It's certainly a convenient premise, in that if there are any errors in the production, one can write them off as directorial choices. When Katie Kuntz's prop mustache fell off, was that a stage direction, or a mistake? It's genius, really, in that you can get away with a mistake and no one would know that it wasn't planned. Brendan Mack's production pulls this off because the script is smart, and the actors are quite funny.
Some meta, immersive components are more successful than others. For example, the show kicks off with a series of shaky, anxious apologies from Mack and the co-director, Chelsea Madsen, saying that they were waiting for late audience members to arrive. This is plausible, and happens often, a show getting delayed in anticipation of certain (or many) audience members. But when we meet said audience members, they are clearly not really a part of the audience, but actors (Marie Bolla and Shermona Mitchell) in garish fur coats playing very important persons.
The first act is technically sketch comedy, each framed as a meta-commentary on the sketch's own failures as they're occurring. Bursting with Seattle-specific inside jokes, the sketches themselves range from digestible scenes about love to post-modern PSAs. The seemingly unrelated sketches slowly start to knit together in surreal ways, and giving away too many specifics would ruin the fun.
By the end of act one, it seems like the show has run its course. And, technically, it said already everything it wanted to say in act one. In act two, the cast rehashes the production of "The Fog Machine" to rebut a cease and desist presented by Annex Theatre. Basically, a process server (played by Sujay Chattopadhyay) comes to let Copious Love productions know that Annex Theatre is putting on a production of "The Fog Machine", so they need to stop. The caveat: if the Copious Love show has enough distinguishing characteristics from the original screenplay that The Annex wishes to adapt (as submitted by Brendan Mack), then the Copious Love show may continue. So the cast scampers through a hurried, bullet-point version of the show. On one hand, it was nice to have a humanized cast stop and review the heady, sketch comedy they just put on. Processing act one is a doozy. On the other hand, getting the cliff notes may feel unrewarding after spending an hour and a half watching Seattle's Monty Python.
The dance numbers in the second act are cute and weird. They give what could be a superfluous second act weight.
This show is not at arm's length from the subject it satirizes. It's a show very cleverly making fun of itself. For Copious Love's self-referential tribute to freaky fringe theatre, I give "The Fog Machine Play" a befuddled and beguiled 4/5 stars.
"The Fog Machine Play" performs at The Slate Theatre through April 22nd, 2017. For tickets and information, visit them online at www.copiouslove.org.