Completely Hollywood — Abridged
Old Creamery Theatre, Studio Stage — through Apr. 17
Our culture loves movies. We love our 90+ minute escapes into adventure, romance, intrigue; we love to watch the unreal possibility inherent in effortless true love, a battle in deep space, a fist fight on the roof of a bullet train or a bunch of super heroes bashing each other senseless and usually destroying large portions of a major city, all in glorious surround sound.
Live theater is often seen as somehow in competition with the movies. As someone completely in love with both art forms, I’m often extra enthused when one art form takes a laughing jab at the other — or itself. And that is precisely what Old Creamery Theater is doing with its current Studio production.
Old Creamery recently opened Completely Hollywood — Abridged, written by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor (with additional material by Dominic Conti). These are the writers who, many moons ago, delivered us The Complete Works of William Shakespeare — Abridged. Admittedly, they’ve been playing that card ever since, with a series of plays riffing a similar motif — much like Hollywood studios today, rolling out the franchise films and remakes that have become a cornerstone of the film industry (a strategy which is spoofed and lampooned in this comedy).
Completely Hollywood is a well-crafted production, extremely funny, absolutely crammed with in-jokes, movie quotes, rapid-fire exchanges and wonderfully contemporary political satire. While folks who aren’t well-versed in movies — whether recent blockbusters or golden age classics — may be less enthralled, most moviegoers will find a great deal of mirth in the constant stream of impressions, mash-ups and parodies in this script. Part of the fun is playing along, recognizing the references and catching the clichés, so I’m not going to expound upon them.
Comedy requires magnificent timing. This cast includes Creamery’s Artistic Director Sean McCall, Chicago-based (but Iowa native) Nate Curlott and Corridor newcomer Andrew Stachurski, all of whom perform essentially as themselves and use their own names, flipping in and out of iconic characters and famous celebrities at the drop of a hat in a whirlwind of physical and emotional energy. They remain connected to each other and masterful in their timing, which is a particular challenge, given the script’s rigorous requirements. Dozens of characters, costume changes and impressions slide in and out of the play as it moves forward. A single slip in time would ruin the momentum and energy.
McCall brings his characteristic comedic acumen, including a real skill at impersonation, which regular Creamery fans will recognize and newcomers will appreciate. Whether playing himself, the megaphone wielding movie director or any number of stereotypical movie characters, he adds excitement and vigor to the show, acting as a sort of lightning rod for the other actors. He sets the pace and maintains it well. The script does not allow him some of (for me) the greatest laugh lines, but he makes use of every opportunity and word.
Curlott is an energetic performer. Most often called to play the most ridiculous roles, cross-dressing and mocking himself shamelessly, he ducks in and out of characters with aplomb. Still, he manages, with delightful discomfort, to maintain the sense that he’s an actor playing these roles. He makes fun of his own performance, calls out his characters’ own political incorrectness and exudes an air of selfless and effortless comedic joy.
Enjoyable as all the performers were in this production, the standout performance belongs to Stachurski. This is, perhaps, in part because he is scripted with more consistent characters, but also because his energy and comic timing are wonderful. He plays off his fellow actors with zeal and a sense that he’s enjoying every moment. Even — perhaps especially — in the most ridiculous moments.
In its technical aspects, the production is mostly well executed. First, I cannot imagine the challenge of costuming and dressing this show. Kudos to costume designer Marquetta Senters and her crew. Not only must it have been an enormous task, given the number of costumes needed, but Senters seems to have made a point of adding commentary on Hollywood standards in costuming choices. For example, the female characters, played by men, wore dresses padded with “endowments” of a ridiculous shape and size, which read as a mockery of Hollywood objectification. It’s rare that a costumer can so carefully make a statement like this on the stage, and, personally, I applaud the choice.
Set designer Marianna Coffey opted for a sparse stage, suitable for the Creamery’s Studio space, but also for the eternally inconstant nature of the show. I found myself a little confused by the set dressing in the first act, which appeared to be some kind of downtown Iowa City-style bulletin board, but seemed to serve no purpose save allowing Stachurski to tack up his headshot. The posters placed upon it were topically unclear, and created neither a Hollywood nor a theatrical atmosphere, leaving me unsure what the setting of the first act really was intended to be.
The set dressing — relating America’s “addiction” to movies in the format of a 12-step recovery program — was topical and entertaining, helping to guide the flow of the first act, but was sometimes difficult to read due to its placement in relation to the stage lighting. Repeated use of “silent movie” placards throughout the show was fun, and a much clearer read. In the second act, a more suitable backdrop appeared, conducive to the second portion of the story.
I found myself grinning as I recognized famous movie soundtracks, both before the show and interspersed throughout, courtesy of sound designer Kurt A. Jeffson. These tunes made me smile and feel nostalgic, and were well placed in the action to underscore but not distract. Jim Vogt’s lighting design was mostly spot on, including a strobe-style effect to represent old movies and silent films, which was quite brilliant. I did find the lighting in some of the scenes in the second act too dark, making it difficult to see the actors’ faces. I assume that was an intended effect, creating mood, but I must admit it was distracting in the scenes it affected.
Director Magdalene Spanuello is new to area theater, and comes with an impressive resume. In a conversation after the show, I learned she did her own dramaturgy, providing hundreds of clips and videos to her actors so they could master the impressions, quotes and other idiosyncrasies of the play. Where the production lacks cohesion, I am inclined to look to the script, which is chaotic and challenging by design.
In summary, this show is a fast-paced night of laughter and entertainment. Especially for movie buffs — you don’t have to be the guy who knows the name of the Best Boy in Rocky 4, but the humor is increased for an audience member who is familiar with more movies. Those who aren’t as well-versed will still enjoy the slapstick, the energy and the good-natured romp.
The performances are solid, funny, and true. I found myself laughing a great deal. It’s a smart, fast paced script that makes you think about our culture’s craving for entertainment, in a way that leaves you feeling like you’ve just seen every movie you love in one night, and left the theater feeling really good. This isn’t theater to change the world. But it is theater to help enjoy life and have a lovely time. I haven’t laughed so freely in months.
Completely Hollywood — Abridged runs through Apr. 17. Ticket information is available at the Old Creamery website or by calling the box office at 319-622-6262.