If playwrights bring the world to the stage, then comic book fan playwright, director and producer Michael Eckett, 24, of Stand-Up Comics brings us a fantastical world with wit snappy enough for speech bubbles.
The story of graduate Liam (Michael) and post-graduate Kris (Kris Wood) in their mid-20s working in a comic book shop is set with layers of references to the comic-world (Marvel or DC? You’ll have to figure that out yourself) as they are stuck on the verge of growing up and face the ultimate question of our prime:
Liam: Who’d want to leave a world where a gorilla can fly a spaceship in a race around the universe? I meant here; it’s not exactly a proper job, is it?
It’s Avenue Q for today’s recession-gripped fans of Tottenham Court Road. But it’s less Broadway and more broad strokes on a canvas of comic quips, fantasies and imaginative insults. The jabs at adults are subtle; a customer’s challenge that her work involves real words like ‘synergy’ goes by unchallenged while Kris defends comics. The script is funny with or without knowledge of comics.
Just when you think two guys can’t maintain this brilliance forever, new characters burst forth – the exuberant (recently sacked) friend Liz (Sandy Jarvis) who crashes the store and won’t leave. And, later on, Adrian (Daniel Farley) bursts in with a deep-voiced, verbose and masculine stride and grand poetry rolls off his tongue as he speaks. This inevitably sets his exuberant eloquence up for a fall as he fails to come up with a basic comic book plot off the cuff. He is style, very sexual and strident style, without much substance.
The irrepressible and over-enthusiastic-inevitably-disappointed Liam with floppy hair and even floppier movement is always at the ‘light bulb moment’ of his life but struggles with the execution – the filling up of pages to write a great comic, the action to come out of the hole where (in his comic) he hides, terrified, surrounded by the more powerful villains that he can’t possibly overcome. The demons of his past, his life, his ex-girlfriend (I wonder if there are 7 of them?)
It’s not writer’s block, though, just page fright.
Liam’s solution is to avoid that comic (with Kris as artist) and run off to start a new one with Ashlynn (Natalie Martins). Is this avoiding our story when we don’t like it to re-write another one (which will inevitable run into the same blocks further down) or is it moving on from a lesser idea to a more profound one? Isn’t that life’s big question about the choices we face and the pain of change?
Since then, Kris feels less of a man – he can no longer summon up imaginative insults like he used to.
They are waiting for Godot in a comic book store – waiting to be inspired, to write, to change jobs, to know what to do with your life. Waiting for Ash? The ashes of the old, the destruction of friendships and criticisms of ideas required to create something new; the ashes where the phoenix will arise.
Kris: He thinks he’s better than me. The other day I pitched a comic idea about a guy with a lion for a chest – and he asked me what the “point” of it was. Not everything needs some deep and meaningful point like his and Ashlynn’s little, indie art jam.”
The celebration of the pointless and random makes the play so utterly relevant and brilliant.
The play is bursting with such beautiful dialogue it is hard to imagine the characters’ lives are as empty as they say they are. They rapidly race through a script that totally relies on the comedy of painstaking timing – and I mean painstakingly physical bumps and knocks endured (mainly by Liam). The play opens with him tripping over the doorway to land face-down on the stage and sets up the expert use of stage and props – Liam leans over a table and Kris holds his leg, Liam jumps on Kris to reach the higher shelves and plenty of stunts where they seem to not see each other but manage to bump into or hit each other at exactly the right time for comic effect…
…to the show down between Liam and Liz in a duel to decide whether she has to leave. She doesn’t, of course, she is too valuable – she counters the boys’ geek-talk with over-girly silliness.
Liam presents very important questions: How can you move forward surrounded by villains you can’t overcome? Why do they call it writer’s block when there’s no physical block?
And do superheroes take costumes to a specialist (and discreet) dry-cleaners?
Kris: SO you’re asking if I, as an adult, ever spend a significant amount of time dwelling on whether fictional characters have to take their fictional clothes to a make believe dry cleaners?”
Kris: No, I haven’t.
…Fly-cleaners? (That’s actually quite good.)
It is a play that is fun, witty, and reverent to the comic book fantasy world – but touches on the multitude of things that confuse and paralyse us. An archetypal angel, new girl Ash, appears (with wings and everything) to ride into Liam’s life and inspire him – “she’s my muse” – and ultimately teach him the fine, fine line between love and a waste of time. For there is nothing outside of ourselves that we don’t need; the comic book store isn’t so bad after all; and, as the play explains itself; “those caballeros and castaways we stumble upon and surround ourselves with, who we invariably make fun of, could be the best thing to ever happen to us.”