Photo Flash: Tis The Season For The Plagiarist's SEASON PASS: DEUX OVER
When 2014 came and went and The Plagiarist's Season Pass hadn't been "dead-headed" enough to actually see every possible ending of their choose-your-own-adventure play it was sad. The cardboard and duct taped futuristic worlds, the Star Trek/Galaxy Quest-esque space suits that were just sexy enough to excite, but not scandalous enough to make one feel bad for the actors, and then there was the random malort-flavored snow-cones that for some reason were offered in between rides...2014 was a good year, if incomplete for only seeing a handful of Season Pass choices.
Lucky for all 2019 is a great year too. The Plagiarists have remounted there successful adventure romp and there are three more chances remaining to choose again. There's no malort provided this time (it's more of a BYOB event), but 2019's DEUX OVER is definitely required viewing, and let's face it: re-viewing while there's time, this Fall.
The evening starts immediately with the signature design. SWEDED* is the style that the entire creative team is going for (not sure what that is? think Be Kind Rewind with Jack Black and Mos Def...and then be wowed that it is an entire movement). Scenic Designer Melissa Schlesinger is back for this re-boot with Nina D'Angier joining her. It should be noted that the first round production spurred Schlesinger to found Escape Artistry (that awesome adventure room space on Milwaukee Ave in Wicker Park). Their designs make use of more found materials than can be seen in even the most obsessive of hoarders, transforming plastic bottles into bombs, egg cartons into buttons and buckets into robot parts. Not only is she helping prevent garbage island's growth in her set designing endeavors she has created an actualization of any over imaginative child's dream pillow fort; think 1985's Explorers (remember that movie with Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix - may he rest in peace - where the kids accidentally create a functional spaceship).
Moving onto the world of sound. Sarah Espinoza has crafted a lifetime's worth of easter egg pings and blips seemingly stolen from video games of days gone by...or at least the 80's. They are just out of reach of identifiable riffs, and yet seem to be taken directly from some memory...a dream perhaps? She has paired the found sound bytes with eerily recorded voices, more variants of electrical whirring than there are fluorescent light room tones and the oddly soothing sound of the bloodstream.
Charles Blunt gives the show lights that help travel through time and worlds with eerie effects that foreshadow or celebrate the poor or successful choices respectively. The audience travels with the guiding actors in various ships, and his raw, low lighting amplifies the assumed intimacy while highlighting all characters (both real and puppets - yep there are puppets).
Emma Cullimore's costumes round out the Season Pass world. She has updated the identical space jumpsuits with blue and gray-toned identical quilted jackets and pants. Much like each season and iteration of Star Trek, they seem the natural evolution of a "deux over" uniform: equal parts form, function, individuality and - while identical - flattering to each of the diverse shapes present on-stage. The unique character details of each costume are so delightfully thought out by Cullimore it's as if she jumped into the characters' shoes and lived their life before manipulating the nuances, distresses and shoelace choices.
Now onto the experience that co-directors Paul Kasper and Nick Freed have created. The evening is a bit like a poor man's Sleep No More. The second you walk through the doors of Jarvis Square Theater you are in a new world. A future. Maybe yours. Your grandchildren's for sure. Life is bleak (sorry) thanks to your future ancestors poor choices...present selfs...the evil gun-toting, non-recyclers of now? It's the future so it's hard to say who is to blame, but you may as well get used to the trippy confusion that is time travel now because the fast-paced 90 minute production is 100% reminiscent of first viewings of the flux capacitor and a slowly fading Michael J. Fox. To settle in to this new reality you owe it to yourself to plan your parking or CTA commute with a few minutes to spare to explore the lobby and get adjusted to life in Warren 1X34=34 before your recruitment officially begins at 8:00 (ie curtain time). Actors Joe Feliciano and Julia Stemper enter and your education jumps to hyperdrive (before you actually jump to hyperdrive...which you might do later...choices pending) as you are brought up to speed on your life in the warren and the time traveling quest to save the world you have volunteered for voluntarily or not. A note on the participation angle: if you are often paralyzed by choice, don't worry, each fork in the road to the end of this play only offers two choices so it's as easy as ordering Chipotle...easier!
You cross through "dispatch" (ie enter the theater itself) and what then unfolds is the perfect antidote for anyone who watched Black Mirror's Bandersnatch and liked it, but was slightly annoyed that each scenario seemed to bring you to the same ending. It is the perfect extension of your childlike love for the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure paperback series now available only as an Amazon used book selection and far from the New York Times bestseller list that you claim to be reading...or the listicles that you actually are. The Plagiarists group writing dialogue is a combination of Bob's Burgers humor, Shakespearean level alliterative discourse and political satire so subtle you won't realize you've been schooled on the current human experience until you wake up the next morning. Half the lines might be from the original, half the cast is, beyond that though, who knows - the original was five years ago, hard to remember it all, but the story is fresh and if the choices are similar to the last iteration it hardly matters because the dialogue still feels newly ripped from headlines and mutated to fit the post-apocalyptic, futuristic refugees, physicians and space settlers you are about to become. And the choices, while far fetched, seem as dangerously close to becoming choices that might actually have to be made in some near-present future as Margaret Atwood's clairvoyant saga of handmaids is. All the while your adventure is just...well...FUN.
The enjoyable ensemble includes Plagiarist Season Pass veterans (Sara Jean McCarthy, Jessica Saxvik, and Nick Freed), Plagiarist regulars (Feliciano, Charlotte Long, Stephen McClure and Stemper) and a brave new actor playing with the company for the first time (Brittani Yawn). Feliciano and Stemper are your team leaders guiding you on the different adventures. McCarthy plays a bubbly-death loving space captain and a comatose peace negotiator and a white blood cell (obviously). Saxvik reprises her role as a schizophrenic space pilot and a prim and proper neuro-surgeon. Freed once again wears a phone for a hand as a submarine sea captain and lays a paternal European. Long speaks in an invented crustacean tongue (which really needs no translator she so perfectly telegraphs her meaning) and a double-agent doctor. McClure is a space cowboy casanova and the "European" offspring of Freed. Yawn tackles mimicking animatronics in the underwater adventure and plays the entire central nervous system of a spaceship (ie the brains of the operation) further down the line. All of the actors puppeteer various secondary characters as well. While unclear how the thespians so adeptly move from choice to choice, the sequences move like butter in and out of the time-machine turned submarine turned diagnosis-bus turned spaceship.
Choose one way and you might be lucky enough to see Long's dinosaur antics (worth the price of admission alone), flrk or grk in space, travel through an Ambassador's ear and contemplate just what rat gambling is; choose a different path, and...well...who knows where your journey will take you. Regardless of your choices your journey will be a non-stop, laughter-filled, adrenaline ride, sure to effect your dreams.
Whatever choices you make, make the choice to journey to Jarvis Square Theater, and pop in to R Public House before or after where they have a special drink in Season Pass's honor (Air Pump Lubricant), not required, but a fun primer for the Miss Frizzle-fueled adventure on a very magic, not-so-school bus trip you are about to embark on.
Get your tickets fast though - rumor has it they are well on their way to selling out.
Photo Credit: Joe Mazza of Brave Lux
Stephen McClure, Sara Jean McCarthy