Updated: Mar 20, 2019
★★☆☆☆ - Still Hungry
Going to see Geek! at the Onyx Theatre is what one might call atmospheric immersion. It’s not environmental theatre, there’s a big difference. The latter uses all manner of things to put you right into the scene of the action, much like last year’s production of Motel. The former hits you the minute you walk in the front door but then reserves the setting and action for the stage.
Even before you walk into the lobby, you’ll find evidence of what this play is all about, because there’s a trailer parked on the sidewalk. And, the lobby is filled with vendors. See, we’re at Dante’s Fire Con; a Cosplay Convention if there ever was one. Crystal Skillman’s play is a comedy; it even says so: Geek! A Cosplay Comedy.
Chances are, if you’re an adult over, say, age 55, you have no idea what that means—unless you’re into comic books and graphic novels; or you have teenagers or grandkids who are involved. Cosplay is dressing up as your favorite comic book character and reenacting (in character) some of the action-packed adventures.
This type of playacting is taken quite seriously by the people who attend these types of conventions. For the stage, this requires a very stylized type of acting. It’s a bit over the top, but it’s done with all seriousness. It’s obvious Director Troy Heard’s vision aimed for the right target. But, this cast doesn’t live up to the script’s title, or Heard’s vision.
There is so much over-emoting by Jenelle Magbutay it’s hard to take her seriously at any point. There’s no aspect of her performance which is believable; not when she’s Danya, the troubled teen who’s obsessed with her heroine, an Animé comic book author; not even when she’s “in character” as Dante. It all comes out the same: rough, foul-mouthed and bullying. Even in softer moments she’s too gruff to garner empathy.
Amber Austin (Honey) fares a little better, but we never get to see the emotional torment, we only hear about it. Austin has a few bright moments when she’s focused on her sister, Ellen, who has recently committed suicide. Austin finds the tenderness required, but the transitions aren’t there to support them.
As Gwen, Sam Murphy falls prey to the same problematic stumbles as Austin. Particularly at the end of the show when the actor drops the cosplay character and is asking for a ride home from the convention; their real request is to be included. The actor is soft, sweet, and apologetic in voice, but never shows us where this comes from.
Cody Angelo brings us a Toby that is at once geeky, humorous, and kind of lovable. Angelo finds the different levels needed to merge his character with the cosplay ones. There is always a part of Toby in each, and that is what brings out the humanity needed to pull this off and make it believable.
There’s a mechanical doll that makes appearances throughout the play, guiding the action through the convention. Ivy Cerelle Floriendo utilizes a high-octave Minnie Mouse vocal quality as she broadcasts her announcements. Her movements are well maintained, fully in character. The issue is with understanding her because much of what she says is lost in the high pitch of her voice. We need a slower speech pattern and better diction to grasp it all.
The remainder of the ensemble (Natalie Senecal, Nancy Gutierrez-Alegria, April Allain, Michael Bardocz, Andrew Young) bring a mixture of abilities to the stage; cosplay roles are well-defined. Alexa Lugo plays Ellen in video clips and does a credible job.
Sean Critchfield’s fight choreography is fun to watch. He’s got the cast up to perfect snuff on how to play fight with all manner of weapons.
The technical aspects of the show are spot on. It’s amazing what this team has managed to pull off in such an intimate space. Multi-media abounds, and the detail in props, lighting, and stage design are extremely well done. And, Sarah Angelo’s costumes are a wonder.
If you want to experience what cosplay comic conventions are all about, put on your audience costume and go play along.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and through February 27
5 p.m. Sunday February 21
Where: Onyx Theatre, 953-16B E Sahara Avenue
Tickets: $15 - $20 (702-732-7225; www.onyxtheatre.com)
Grade: ** (Still Hungry)
Producer: Off-Strip Productions; Director/Scenic Design: Troy Heard; Fight Direction: Sean Critchfield; Video design: Jake Rouse & Billy Tovar; Lighting Design: Liz Kline; Costume design: Sarah Angelo; Sound Design: Joel Rudd; Stage Manager: Cory Covall; Asst. Stage Manager: Crystal Zelaya; Deck Manager: Adam Win; Character Art: Jean Marie Mounson; Costume Construction: Girl With One Eye Fashion, Sarah Angelo, Menlanie Davis, Charmaine Bird