BWW Review: A 3D ADVENTURE Screens a Madcap, if Uneven, Blockbuster at Circle Theatre
This year has seen no shortage of box office record-breaking films, with theaters filled to bursting with audiences eager to catch the latest Marvel movie, Disney sequel/remake/reboot, or surprisingly original productions such as Us or Booksmart. As enjoyable as these titles all may be, they're demanding more and more of our time and money, leaving less time for us to enjoy other, often less glamorous art forms such as original theatre.
This conflict between the old and new, the visually stunning and emotionally moving, inspires playwright Matt Lyle's latest world premiere, A 3D ADVENTURE. The play more than lives up to its title, providing audiences with a madcap rush of scenes filled with action and laughter. But much like a hastily edited fight sequence, the story often feels clunky and uneven, privileging easy gimmicks over dramatic development. A 3D ADVENTURE runs through September 14 at Circle Theatre in Fort Worth.
Lyle's original work tells the story of Doc (Bob Hess), an optimistic but downtrodden theatrical director; Boof (Jenna Anderson), his loyal assistant; and their company's four enthusiastic, if easily distracted, performers. The evening before the opening of their new show, Doc and his cast are despairing over the current state of live theatre, bemoaning the fact that it can never compete with the glitz of the silver screen. Suddenly (and inexplicably), time and space are ripped asunder, and Doc and his crew are transported into a cinematic realm filled with scenes from some of the century's most iconic movies, from The Matrix to Footloose to Casablanca. The remainder of the play shows Doc and Boof's efforts to save their cast as they also come to better understand their own friendship and love for one another.
Lyle's script is often wickedly funny and at its best when making fun of movie tropes and paradoxes that we often take for granted: Why are the accents of European villains always so hard to place? What would happen if the leads in romantic comedies didn't have such supernaturally perfect timing when running into one another? These moments poke fun at the artificial aspects of our favorite films while still lovingly admiring the entertainment they have brought us. However, those with a keener comedic sensibility will groan at the play's many one-liners and one-off references to movies with which they may not be familiar. Brief homages to Tremors orDeliverance may be amusing, but they do little to advance the play's dramatic arc, which doesn't really get under way until well into the first act.
Even if the scripted material may tend toward the superficial, A 3D ADVENTURE's ensemble - under the thoughtful and exciting direction of Matthew Gray - tackles every scene and gag with conviction and almost superhuman levels of energy. As Doc, Bob Hess carries the comedic bulk of the show with a goofy charm and an obnoxious air of obliviousness that slowly sheds away as the show progresses. He also draws inspiration from some of the finest comic actors of our time, both on screen and onstage. Hess's lightning-fast pacing and overt lasciviousness reminded me as some of Mel Brooks's best work, and his physical comedy and tender moments of sincere emotion were reminiscent of the performances of Gene Wilder.
Jenna Anderson excellently complements Hess as Boof, Doc's long-suffering sidekick. Anderson frequently has to play the straight-(wo)man to Hess's manic character, and she accomplishes this well while still bringing her own brand of humor to the role, trying to maintain her dignity and composure even as she finds herself in increasingly bizarre situations. Anderson's character is also the most endearing and sympathetic on the stage, and her lovesick glances at Doc and ridiculous yet brave acts of heroism give the audiences a heroine worth rooting for, even if the stakes of the conflict may not always be clear.
The show's remaining four actors pull multiple duties as both Doc's company of performers as well as the movie universe's many, many inhabitants. Some of these roles receive more stage time and better moments than others, but all four actors prove the theory that exciting actors can make even the smallest of roles some of the most memorable. Parker Gray and Olivia Grace Murphy are dementedly delightful as a pair of gender-bending European (?) villains determined to stop Doc and his crew from escaping their world. Whitney Blake Dean plays a string of stereotypically distressed or distressing damsels, her best performance being her turn as the ditzy Teeny, the original object of Doc's lust. Zachary J. Willis rounds out the company lampooning leading men as varied as Kevin Bacon and Humphrey Bogart. Despite being in some of the script's weaker scenes, Willis always commits to the humor of the piece with impressive conviction and confidence, busting a move or busting a gut and inviting the audience along for the fun.
The performers have a refreshingly open space in which to play and stretch their jokes to their breaking point. Jeffrey Schmidt's set design turns the proscenium of Circle Theatre into the proscenium of an old movie theater, complete with red velvet curtains and box seats. While the physical set itself might be relatively simple, the true wonder comes from Schmidt's ability to combine his theatrical design elements with more challenging digital elements. Certain scenes are projected on to the movie screen with seamless transitions, and cameras embedded in pillars surrounding the playing area record the performers from various angles then project their images to provide the audience with a fresh perspective. It is difficult to describe the design without potentially ruining the desired effect, but it suffices to say that such moments explore Lyle's combination of the theatrical and the cinematic in a more literal and highly effective manner. I'm sure Aaron Johansen's lighting design also helped in this accomplishment. Additionally, Aaron Patrick Declerk has created and recreated countless iconic costumes for this production, which is no small task when the actors have to switch from one character to the next with little time to rest in between.
All in all, much like the movies we flock to weekend after weekend, A 3D ADVENTURE provides a fun and often funny escape from the real world, assisted by a small cast at the height of their comedic talents. While this is no small achievement, this critic left the auditorium wishing the show had had just a little more substance, something to better separate the intimacy of the theatre from the mass-produced products of the movies.