Monday, April 27, 2015

AN INVITATION OUT • Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed's season comes to a close with a world premiere by playwright Shualee Cook — an old fashioned drawing room comedy with a twist. It’s set in a futuristic virtual reality, where many prefer to interact through the magnified personas of their avatars in online chat rooms, instead of enduring the rigors and demands of living life ”offline." Even the opening words by Mustard Seed’s artistic director, Deanna Jent, are presented as an animated likeness of her, projected on a scrim running across the stage. The stage is framed by a skewed, computer screen-like border, and the pre-show projections of DNA strands and “Sims”-like avatars fittingly set the mood.

When the play begins, we meet Wridget (Bob Thibaut), an avatar designer, who’s putting the finishing touches on an operating system (Nicole Angeli) to serve as the maid for the evening.
Alicia Revé Like (Aunt Scandalicious),
Justin Ivan Brown (Xluci), Laura Ernst (Flutterbye),
Nicole Angeli (Maid) and Ellie Schwetye (Raskin).
Photo credit: John Lamb

He's entertaining his sister, Buttercup (Julie Venegoni), and her husband FlyByNite (Daniel Lanier). They’ve recently had a baby, and are spending a considerable amount of time “offline”, with Wridget taking short jaunts into the real world to spend time with the baby. Another guest, their Aunt Scandalicious (Alicia Revé Like), with a walk that would stop traffic, if there were any traffic online, abhors the idea of not being on the grid, and Wridget's girlfriend Flutterbye (Laura Ernst), an incredibly popular blogger whom he plans to propose to arrives, constantly updating her status anytime she says something she deems clever enough to share with her millions of fans.

Daniel Lanier (FlyByNite), Justin Ivan Brown (Butler),
Nicole Angeli (XLuci) and Julie Venegoni (Buttercup).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Another guest, a friend of Buttercup’s named Raskin (Ellie Schwetye), is immediately identified as an “out dweller”, who enjoys being unplugged, providing the perfect contrast to urge on Wridget’s craving for more time in the real world. The virtual evening ends up with Wridget considering some fundamental questions, and how his desire to connect with something real relates to his stimulating, yet simulated and somewhat tedious plugged-in existence.

Under Jent’s careful direction, Thibaut is earnest as Wridget, weighing his new experiences inside the whirlwind of activity around him. Ernst is buoyant but superficial as the constantly distracted Flutterbye, and Like makes for an Aunt Scandalicious who captures your attention with every quip and jab she throws, clearly preferring a world where she can appear half as old as she is.
Bob Thibaut (Wridget),
Richard Strelinger (ReverendVariety.Org)
and Laura Ernst (Flutterbye).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Justin Ivan Brown is engaging as Wridget's gender-flexible pal Xluci, a witty and foppish computer hacker who chooses to present as male in the first act, and female in the second, where Xluci is played with the same cool charm by Angeli. Brown and Angeli also switch roles as the maid or butler between acts, and Angeli’s maid, originally programmed as British, is hacked to become a testy Norwegian. It’s a nifty trick. Schwetye stands in wonderfully for the audience as Raskin, addressing the world’s current constructs with curious amazement, and Venegoni convinces as Wridget’s concerned sister, along with Lanier as her husband, even though FlyByNite’s avatar has a tendency to periodically stall. Mark Wilson’s excellent scenic design, Michael Sullivan’s lighting design, Beth Ashby's outrageously designed costumes and Chris Jent’s projections come together to paint an exciting backdrop, with Zoe Sullivan’s sound design providing computer sound effects and little entrance vamps for the characters.

Justin Ivan Brown (Butler),
Alicia Revé Like (Aunt Scandalicious) and Laura Ernst (Flutterbye).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The benefits and pitfalls of social media have already shown an effect on individual perceptions of person vs. persona. In her playwright’s notes, Cook says her play is "a look at the future inspired by the past that would hopefully shed some light on the present." “An Invitation Out”, though it runs a bit on the long side, hits this mark to a huge degree. It’s playing until the 3rd.


Written by Shualee Cook
Directed by Deanna Jent 
Mustard Seed Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd.
through May 3 | tickets: $25 - $30
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Nicole Angeli (Maid/XLuci), Justin Ivan Brown* (Xluci/Butler), Laura Ernst (Flutterbye), Daniel Lanier (FlyByNite), Alicia Revé Like (Aunt Scandalicious), Ellie Schwetye (Raskin), Richard Strelinger (ReverendVariety.Org), Bob Thibaut (Wridget) and Julie Venegoni (Buttercup).
*Member Actors' Equity Association

Assistant director, Katie Donnelly; scenic design by Mark Wilson; lighting design by Michael Sullivan; costume design by Beth Ashby; sound design by Zoe Sullivan; props design by Meg Brinkley; light board operator, Angela Doerr; projections by Chris Jent; set construction by Jon Hisaw, Ryan Stewart and Tom Stevenson; stage manager, Maggy Bort.

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