Friday, April 24, 2015

Theater: Local Hero

Lizard Boy written and composed by Justin Huertas, Directed by Brandon Ivie, Seattle Rep through 2 May.

This one had a lot to live up to. The Lovely Bride saw an early draft of it a year ago in the New Play Festival at the Poncho (a performing space in the REP) and loved it. She went to the tech rehearsal the week before opening and liked it even more. And she's been talking about it for a while. So this one had a lot of front-loaded expectation to it.

And (spoilers) it lives up to those expectations. This is an excellent play with excellent performances. It is also a strange thing: A personal, private musical, firmly entrenched in a particular time and place. On one hand, I could see this going large, getting a special on Netflix, or a fair time off-Broadway followed by a 40-city run. On the other, it fits so snugly in the pocket of Seattle, circa the second decade of this century, I don't know if it would play the same way in Omaha or Chicago or even ten years from now.

Lizard Boy is a three-person musical about a gay superhero who plays the cello and draws comics. To quote said hero - "Whaaaaaa?" Justin Heurtas is Trevor, who was bathed in dragon's blood (the dragon having escaped from Mount St. Helens - shades of Shadowrun) and has a lizardish skin condition as a result. He's a bit of a folk hero (there's a "Lizard-Fest" in the play, where people dress up like him - not something unusual for a city that sees cosplayers from PAX, Sakuracon, and Emerald City Comics Con in its downtown). He has also spent the past year in his room as a result of a bad relationship. He contacts Cary (a lovably goofy William A Williams) over Grindr (a gay hookup app) for an awkward first date that involves Dick's Burgers and the Crocodile. At the club he encounters Siren, the "Girl of his Dreams" (both literally and in the pages of the Stranger), who is a tough-talking, hard-living singer who has a deeper connection with Trevor. And then dragons attack.

And it all works, pretty much. It is not so much an origin story or a coming out story as it is a coming to terms story. Lizard Boy hides his lamp under a bushel, and only when pushed does he discover his abilities. Sort of Peter Parker if he had decided NOT to become Spider-Man. The story itself shuttles from pillar to post with numerous flashbacks and "meanwhiles", but does so effortlessly and including the audience in its motions. Cary and Siren do support work on-stage when their characters are not in the thick of the action, and there is little dissonance in their presence.

Further, I enjoy the fact that the plot actually moves forward through the songs. No, bear with me on this one. "Traditional" American musicals have a nasty tendency to bring everything to a stop when the music begins. The character states that she is lonely, then launches into three minutes of song about her loneliness, while the audience gets that she is indeed lonely and just follows along with the nice music. There is actual exposition going on in the songs, so pay attention.

There is a stylized nature in Lizard Boy as well, with comic sketches displayed against the background, that works as well. The combat at the end of the play (hey, it's a comic book. Of course there is conflict) is much, much more effective than the comic rolling-about in The Comparables. It is neatly choreographed and more evocative than if the protagonist was web-spinning his way over the audience.

Perfect? No. It has a couple of challenges. Trevor's lizard-boy disfigurement is presented as few green spangles on his cheeks, and it requires a sense of disbelief to grok that he looks radically different, as opposed to a guy with shiny jade freckles. And some of the dancing falls into a trope of more modern American musicals - jarring the floor to indicate emphasis. Stomp has so much to answer for.

So yeah, this is one of the good ones. It is an original, local production, the result of talented individuals at the Rep working and refining the piece. It has a few raw edges, but it occupies a magical location called Seattle at a unique time. Go see it.

More later,