Some plays need to come with a warning. I already know what warning THEATREdART's world premiere of The Show Trial deserves: "Caution! You may bust your spleen from laughing."
Pretty impressive for a play that tosses around references to Kafka, Kierkegaard and Stanislavski as though they were confetti.
The Show Trial comes from the mind of Jeff Keele, a UCCS senior who also happens to be one of our city's most promising playwrights. While this is his first full-length play, he's had a number of short works produced around town. And if you've seen any of those, you already know what a twisted mind he has. (He's the guy who came up with the rat bursting out of a man's chest for Springs Ensemble Theatre's recent 24SEVEN.)
Keele is assisted by first-time director Jordan Mathews, who has made his own name as an over-the-top comic actor for THEATREdART and the Millibo Art Theatre.
The nearly three-hour play starts slow, but once it gets going, it hurtles forward with all the momentum of a bullet train. In it, a longtime prisoner named Kay — played with grim determination by Steven Schubin — is finally released from his cell. Not to freedom, but to something more sinister. He is to appear in a dramatization of his own life, something called a "prisoner play," before being executed.
The production team for his play is put together, and Kay soon finds himself in a world gone mad. A world in which power-crazy directors shoot troublesome actors, bloodthirsty "Playwright Tamers" are sent to wrest scripts from writers who've gone feral, and armed guerrillas man the sound booth.
Think of it as The Producers, if it were written by Quentin Tarantino.
The promotional materials advertise it as a play within a play within a play, but that barely does justice to it. Most works like this go deeper with each layer, but in a unique twist, The Show Trial moves both up and down, until the audience becomes the cast of a meta-play that The Show Trial is only a part of.
Confusing, maybe. Genius, definitely.
Unfortunately, the story eventually loses its way, shifting its focus from the prisoner's plight to the growing chaos on stage. But even then, the gags keep coming. And I've rarely heard an audience laugh so loudly or so often.
Michael Lee is his usual hilarious self as demented playwright Regan. Adam Blancas takes what could be a boring role, that of the prison warden, and turns it into comedy gold with his rubber-faced expressions. And foghorn-voiced Karl Brevik is brilliant as the director Sergei, a man who keeps a tight grip on his cast while keeping a very loose grip on reality.
"We don't put on plays so much as emotional assaults," Sergei tells Kay early on.
Emotional assault? Yep, that pretty much sums up The Show Trial.