As soon as I walked in out of the frigid February night and saw the vintage Simplex film projector in the lobby of the Mounds Theatre, casually aimed at a signboard displaying a poster for A Klingon Christmas Carol, I thought I was in a pretty nifty theater. When I moved into the auditorium itself and saw the full-size TARDIS, door invitingly ajar, I knew that this was my kind of place. If you’re wondering whether I immediately ran into the TARDIS and flew away on a life-changing adventure through time and space with the Doctor—no. I was here to review Fearless Comedy Productions’ Fearless Five: Conspiracies show, and I am a professional. (Besides, it wasn’t actually bigger on the inside, so I think it was broken or something.)
Located in eastern St. Paul, the Mounds Theatre was in its early life a silent cinema and vaudeville stage. Having passed through a warehouse period (haven’t we all? mine is every year between November and March) and subsequent renovation, the theater is now home to whatever zany activities artists care to perform.
And zany is certainly the word for this latest Fearless Comedy show. Artistic Director Tim Wick, long on the Twin Cities theatrical scene, explains, “The concept is simple: five playwrights were given a prompt—conspiracies—and asked to write a play inspired by that prompt. . . . Once the plays were written, five different directors began working with a cast of six actors to create an evening of theater.” Even the music prior to the show took its cue from the conspiracy theme, with Weird Al Yankovic’s “Foil” off his Mandatory Fun album preparing the audience for what was to come.
The first play, ironically titled “The End,” was written by David Walbridge and directed by Wick, and it opens with smooth-voiced announcer Geoff (Joseph Allen Facente) intoning an old-fashioned ad for Malarkey Lemonade. The larger part of the skit involves replacement actor Gordon (Jason Kruger) filling in for a vanished earlier radio actor, while fellow voice actors Tim, Wendy, and Dawn (Brynn Berryhill, Breanna Cecile and Lana Rosario, respectively) muddle the lines between the murder mystery they are portraying and the murder mystery in which Gordon might actually be participating. Full of eager confusion, Rosario’s wild dramatics, and Kruger’s slide from incredulity into suspicion, “The End” is indeed an excellent beginning.
Between each play, while the stagehands are busy, the actors recreate (via voice-overs) conspiracy YouTube clips and podcasts that argue in favor of a flat earth, alien sightings, or government mind control. There is something about watching black-clad figures performing mysterious functions in dim lighting that renders the wild claims just that much more plausible, it must be said—and the voice-overs certainly keeps the audience on message during the downtime.
The next play is “The Audition,” written by Cara White and directed by Susanne Becker. Jason Kruger now portrays flamboyant Hollywood director Gary, beholden to a stone-faced government agent (Lana Rosario) to assist the government in producing a movie for unknown purposes. Joseph Allen Facente is now professional actor Michael Collins, auditioning for a role as an astronaut in the mysterious film, while Angela Fox is Doris, spunky assistant to the agent. Possibly the weakest of the five plays in terms of plot, the play is nevertheless amusing as Gary’s personality increasingly grates on both the agent and Doris while Collins attempts to bring all his theatrical gravity to bear on his giant-stepping performance. (Spoiler: The role goes to Neil.)
The last performance before intermission is “With Friends Like These,” written by Keith Dalluhn and directed by Eric Thompson. This play was my favorite, with Angela Fox turning in an uncanny impersonation of Apple’s Siri in tone and vocal cadence. Breanna Cecile is Alexa, and Jason Kruger is a perfect Dave—hapless duuude caught in the machines’ macabre machinations. The interplay between Siri and Alexa is endlessly charming, and I could have listened to it go on longer, though I would have liked a little bit more attention paid to the two assistants’ ultimate plan.
Following the intermission was “Day Job Vu,” written by Aiden Dustin Milligan and directed by Garrick Dietze, in which it’s Rand’s (Kruger’s) first day on the job, again and again. With Fox as 56981, Rosario reprising her role as the no-nonsense agent from “The Audition,” and Berryhill as mail-girl-turned-supervisor Molly, this play looks at the more bureaucratic side of conspiracies and shows us that love can bloom even when nothing can be trusted—even your memory. (Note: Garrick Dietze is a Twin Cities Geek contributor.)
The last play, “Leap of Faith,” written by Bob Alberti and directed by Dan Patton, runs much in the vein of Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author. It manages to shatter the fourth wall both figuratively and literally via a visit by perennial conspiracy theorist Chris (Berryhill) to Pat’s (Facente’s) and Sandy’s (Fox’s) penthouse apartment with the unbelievable new theory that they are just actors in a play and will be snuffed out like the lights at the end of the scene. Amusingly debated by an increasingly frantic Chris and equally skeptical Pat, with Sandy hesitating between the two as the skit goes on and time runs out, will Chris save her friends before the final curtain?
By turns absurd, satirical, and touching, Conspiracies is definitely worth seeing. Head over to the Mounds Theatre and check it out sometime during its run! No, they’re not forcing me to write that. (Though they are monitoring your every movement, so you’d better go see the show. Soon.)
Fearless Five: Conspiracies continues February 16, 17, 23, and 24 at 7:30 p.m.