“Take a typical show at the old Globe, kick out the wine merchants and vassals who paid subscriptions and leave only the groundlings,” and you’ll get the audience Apron Theatre Company Artistic Director Tyler Budde wants. To get there, this new Georgetown theatre company offers pre and post-show parties, but doesn’t offer subscriptions: “We don’t want someone to come to our plays because they have to.”
The Continuing Adventures of John Blade, Super Spy—was written by stage fight director Kyle Encinas. If that tells you you’re going to see fights, shootings, lots of weapons and all-around mayhem, you know your theatre well.
I’m bound by honor to reveal next to nothing about the story: there are too many surprises, and the briefest of synopses threatens to give them away. You will understand when you see it, as I hope you will. All you need to know for now is that Encinas’ action comedy involves a plot by Professor Tantamount (Phil Hosford) to take control of the world with a weather machine. Now, as so many times in the past, the world’s only hope is John Blade (Chris Dwyer), the world’s greatest spy.
Apron has chosen the Letelier Theater in Georgetown as the venue for their play, and hopes it will be available for future productions. The theatre is located in a second-floor space above a courtyard, and you may, at first, feel like you are going to see a play staged at a motel. It was obviously intended for another use but it is a rather cozy space with temporary seating for about one hundred patrons. Budde, also the director of the play, uses the space skillfully, employing a permanent set upstage, but concealing it for much of the production with enormous black screens. All the gun-, sword-, and knife- play take place downstage. The action is so close that the audience can often smell the gasses from the discharged weapons, briefly giving the audience a third sensory experience.
One of the problems Budde acknowledges in this production is the difficulty of working with a huge cast, (a total of sixteen actors appear in this presentation, portraying approximately thirty characters) in such a small space. Sometimes the stage gets a little crowded, especially considering that the characters are almost constantly in motion. Curtain call was a little awkward, with some of the players doing little more than peeking from behind the screens.
Each actor brought special skills to the production, and most of their characters were memorable. On the night I attended, some of these skills were used in ways the company did not plan. Just as the play was about to start, there was a glitch in the electrical system, denying the use of stage lights, and postponing the start for some fifteen minutes. Actors Kellen Quigley and Caroline Mahoney used their musical talents to keep the restless crowd entertained during the lull.
In the play itself, Gil Hasty and Ezree Mualem stand out. Hasty, as Terry Baltus, Tantamount’s chief henchman, plays his role with a true warrior’s elan, and somehow slides the humor in like a stiletto. Mualem is simply golden as news anchor Laura Lightheart, who as the story progresses, finds it harder to live up to her name. Her performance is projected with perfect comedic timing, and borders on ironic monologue.
Budde says that his intent with these productions is to break down the wall separating the audience and the performance. He takes great pains to achieve this. Both before and after the play, parties are held where the cast mingles with the audience, and even before that, cast members can be seen rehearsing their fight scenes in the courtyard. There are other surprises as well, but I won’t get into them; see for yourself.
The Continuing Adventures of John Blade, Super Spy continues thru Nov 7, 2011 at Letelier Theatre, 3251 Prospect Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007.
The Continuing Adventures of John Blade, Super Spy
By Kyle Encinas
Directed by Tyler Budde
Produced by The Apron Theatre Company
Reviewed by Steve Hallex
Running time: About 2 hours with 15 minute intermission and pre-and post-show parties