Written by Thom Dunn
Directed by James Peter Sotis
Comic Con is a fantastical world, overwhelming, yet a sight to behold. Cosplay enthusiasts run rampant with gusto. Geeks and nerds becoming partners in an ultimate Venn diagram. The worlds of movies, TV, comic books, fantasy, sci fi and everything in between come and play. Bringing all of that on stage within a theatrical production? Executed masterfully by the clever and passionate minds of Vagabond Theatre Group. They recently opened their production "True Believers" by local playwright Thom Dunn at the Factory Theatre. It was quite the fun experience. Last year, I participated in their production of "The Unfortunate Cutthroats", so putting on a reviewer hat was lot of fun, especially being on the other side.
"True Believers" is quite the apt name, as it applies to so much more than expected in this production. There was such an interesting intertwining of different characters. Comic book writer Chad Mailer comes to hopefully get his career jump started after a series of setbacks. His former partner, artist and aspiring writer Kt Watts, is on the rise as she hits big after completing their previous story they had worked on together years before. Ted Thompson, an editor of DC Comics and one of Chad's friends struggles to keep sane while his online girlfriend, Chloe, is on her way to meet him for the first time. Ultimate fanboy and writer Box, is over the top and philosophical, spreading his joy and love for the world of comics. Neurotic fan and video blogger Billy Horowitz comes to confront Chad for his recent depiction of a famed comic book character. He is accompanied by his best friend, aspiring artist, Calvin, who is also trying to become a crime fighter, Avenger. All their stories come together, and its Chad story that takes the driver seat and we see his journey, though we get a taste of everyone's story slowly seep their way in.
Dunn's script is smart and sharply written. He creates memorable and believable characters set in this world who many of us can either relate to, or just be familiar with. The comedic moments are great and chock full of fantastic one liners. He also is able to create strong and powerful dramatic moments that help balance the comedy. It doesn't become a parody, but a snap shot of what this world could very well be like. James Peter Sotis directed the piece, cleverly dropping in geeky and nerdy references here and there, pulling the audience into this world. As a director he accomplishes to not only give us complexity to these characters, but doesn't keep the audience outside. He wants us to be a part of everything on a much larger scale. Its almost as though he has created a microcosm of sorts, and he executes everything fanastically. The Factory Theatre is a small space, and Sotis uses it every bit of it incredibly well. The set by Josh Friedensohn, lights by Lucas Garrity, sound by Sam Sewell all come together wonderfully and work in tandem, as they are put more than 100% into this world of Comic Con. The props and costumes deserve high marks as well for the originality and construction. Each tech aspect fell into place perfectly. We even get a taste of an online RPG that seemed like it was created specifically for this show, as as video clips, peppered throughout. They both gave some wonderful flavor to the production. Tech wise, this show sits on high, while still keeping the audience invested in everything around them and still steeped in the world of theatre.
The actors, Ryan Edlinger, Zach Winston, Jeff Marcus, Rachel Katherine Alexander, Michael Avellar, Jim Remmes, Caitlyn Conley, Anne Colpitts and Steve Marois all bring their A-game. From the neurotic to the cavalier, they are all give great performances who would in any other production, could become parodies of themselves. In this production, however, they could easily be real people with doubts, insecurities, confidence and attitudes. Edlinger plays Chad Mailer with ease and levels of complexity as well as managing to give us a strong sense of an arc, making us all root for him. We have all been there with ourselves. Zach Winston is the conniving and committed Billy Horowitz, and steals many scenes with his over the top grandeur and brilliantly timed one-liners. Jeff Marcus gives us a sweet turn as Calvin, who himself is loyal to his friend to a fault, but we see there is much more underneath the layers of his calm. Rachel Katherine Alexander plays the innocent Chloe very well, but like everyone else, has more to her than we realize, growing a great deal during the piece. Michael Avallar's Ted rides the line between confidence and anger strongly, giving us a sense of what kind of person he was before the man he was today. Its great to see. The odd and philosophical Box, played by Jim Remmes, is hilariously impish and wonderfully theatrical in his representation of the character. Again, with everyone else, gives us something much deeper than what we see in many moments. Caitlyn Conley's Kt is wonderfully brash, confident and incredibly comfortable, as she gives us several helpings of well-placed snark. She is, in a word, awesome. Anne Colpitts and Steve Marois give strong performances as the Ensemble, as they play different characters throughout, and have funny moments but not taking away from the main scenes at hand. Everyone in this cast shines.
What else can be said about this show except only more praise? The writing, actors, tech, direction and everything in between masterfully and beautifully clashed together. Vagabond Theatre Group has put so much effort, attention and above all, utter geek and nerdy love into this production. Yes, we get a taste of Comic Con, but we see that even in an environment that feeds off of fantasy, there is truth and faith under all those layers. "True Believers", again, seems like not just a clever title, but rather something within, something we maintain as we latch onto something bigger. Even though we might lose faith in ourselves, we realize that we are more much more capable then we first thought. We just need someone to help us, or in this case, believe in the world of "superheroes, cyborgs and slave Leias" to help give us that extra push. Kudos to Vagabond for wonderfully bringing it all together, culminating in a great night of theatre. Check it out!