Art Culture

Culture: And You Thought Your Neighbors Were Weird 2020

| October 9, 2020 | 0 Comments
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And You Though Your Neighbors Were Weird Culture

Culture: The Complex is Seattle improv group Unexpected Productions’ latest blend of scripted work and improvisation. The group’s artistic director Randy Dixon helmed this piece based on actor Kevin Brady’s experiences as a local apartment manager. The story itself is not all that complex. It basically boils down to: Boy wants to be an actor. Boy must get real job managing apartment complex. Boy realizes that his residents are insane. Boy creates play about his insane residents. The complexity in this play lies more in the creative process itself and in the characters that evolved from it rather than the plot. Turns out it’s not really a play in the conventional sense of the word because it started out without a script. Dixon takes the basics of the story—in this case found materials and Brady’s own experiences—and works together with the actors to create the scenarios and the dialogue that appears in the finished performance. In theory, there may not be a finalized script for the production until the opening night.

The found materials used in The Complex are a series of letters written from the incarcerated boyfriend of tenant Candy Johnson. The history of Candy that is developed in the letters as well as her boyfriend’s criminal lifestyle comprises one of the main conflicts of the story. The culture Kevin discovered these letters after Candy’s disappearance from his building and they are often read verbatim throughout the course of the play. This is a great element to utilize, but for some reason the letters just aren’t able to pull off the amount of impact that is intended. The first flaw I would point out is that the letters are written by someone who is involved deeply in the criminal world and is now becoming hardened after finding Jesus in prison. This is a multi-faceted character to play and try as he might, I just don’t think that the actor who was reading the letters made it believable. Without making too many generalizations, I will say that the actor seemed uncomfortable with some of the slang used in the letters and though he didn’t stumble over the words they fell from his mouth like foreign objects. Also, at some point the choice was made to show Lisa Keeton, the actress who plays Candy Johnson silently reading all the letters in her apartment. The problem with this is that it doesn’t really give Keeton much to do while playing a depressed former drug-addict. Her character has a slew of issues that are dealt with in these letters and just placing the actress on the stage to alternately stare at a piece of paper or out into space is a serious underutilization of her skills.

The second major clash in The Complex is the relationship between tenants Jerry Cartwright and Mary Komiski and it quickly becomes the one that gives the play its drive towards a climax. Jerry and Mary are portrayed by Unexpected Productions alumnus Troy Mink and regular cast member Susie Simpkins. Mink’s Jerry is by far the highlight of this play. His ambiguously gay Princess Diana-obsessed mentally ill alcoholic made me laugh so hard that I forgot there was a girl dealing with addiction in another part of the building. His culture mile-a-minute dialogue is impressive as is his ability to create a sympathetic character out of someone who is so over the top he borders on cartoonish. Simpkins is also impressive as Mary, a depressed manipulator who lives alone in her filthy apartment with five dogs. She manages to play the lunatic who isn’t quite fooling anyone, but who nonetheless manages to trick others into playing into her madness. Problems escalate between the two after a series of petty arguments that quickly turn into an all out war at the apartment complex. These characters are hilarious and real and they are the type of people who make living in apartment building an experiment of sorts.

Our trusty culture guide between these two worlds is Kevin Brady who appears as himself to act as a transition between the residents’ stories. Even though he didn’t necessarily “write” the script it is obvious that his experiences are the main thread throughout the plot and I think that he was right in assuming that there could be something worthwhile created from his time as a manager. The only real element lacking in the piece is a sustained pace or buildup of momentum. I can understand the value of pairing these two stories together, but the finished product seems to almost stop and start between the two. Jerry and Mary are both such loud and dynamic characters that the flip to Candy and her letters feels out of place in comparison culture. Keeton gives a great performance when she finally does speak and I wished that I had gotten to hear more from her as a character and less from the letters. As far as the improvisational process, the play works just as well as a scripted play. Had I not known that the script was a collaborative effort between the actors I would have never guessed. The conflicts are both drawn together at the end and a fully developed story is created from their efforts. The Complex is a good bet for people interested in different theater forms, gay alcoholics, or anyone who’s ever wondered what exactly their neighbors are doing over in their apartments.

The Complex runs February 26th through March 28th at The Market Theater in Seattle

 The history of Candy that is developed in the letters as well as her boyfriend’s criminal lifestyle comprises one of the main conflicts of the story. Culture.

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