Left to right, Robin Rose, Timmy L’Heureux, Chris Torma, Matt Nykiel, Brad Poer, Heberto Espinosa and Elizabeth Mangham collaborate in the performance of Revolárte, 30 original short plays written by the actors themselves and to be performed in whatever order the audience decides.
The woman on stage has clearly lost it. She started off meek and polite, calmly extolling the virtues of the Good Food Store while accompanied by the mellow strains of an acoustic guitar. But somewhere along the way she derailed herself into a screeching rant about how KFC stands for “Kills Fat Children” and how mothers in the drive-thru lane should just fire a pistol down the throat of whomever they plan to feed with the bucket of chicken they’re waiting in line for—or better yet they should just fire it down their own throats. What I am watching is no longer about selling organic goodness; maybe it never was.
But there’s no time to consider the meaning because someone shouts “Curtain!” as soon as the woman’s done, and then screams “RJ2K!” and the room is plunged into darkness as people with cell phones reenact the balcony scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet via text message. Less than a minute after Juliet ends the romantic exchange by sending a sweet and sultry ringtone, the same actor who played Juliet recites a poem of her own in a third piece, a moment freighted with seriousness. Not so with what ensues in a fourth piece; a purposefully bad interpretative dance to an even worse a capella rendition of Howie Day’s “Collide.”
So passes about eight minutes of my time in the presence of The Cutiez, a local performance troupe whose work, Revolárte, promises 30 short plays in 60 minutes. Your time, however, should you choose to attend their upcoming one-night stand at The Loft, will almost certainly go differently—the order of the show’s plays will be determined on the spot by audience members.
The Cutiez adopted the concept from Chicago’s Neo-Futurists, whose own 30-plays-in-60-minutes schtick is titled Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. Performers write 30 short plays, each an average of two minutes long. When the audience enters the theater, each member receives a “menu” identifying the plays by number and title. When one piece finishes, the one corresponding to the first number shouted out by an audience member comes next. Performers only learn which number matches which play when they pull the number down from a clothesline running across the top of the stage, getting no more time to prepare than it takes to shout out the title.
As a result of this randomness, slapstick could explode out of a moment of introspection, or a quiet cry for help could wind up bursting into a raucous musical number. Almost certainly, in fact, they will.
“You never know what’s going to be thrown at you in real life,” says performer Elizabeth Mangham, “so why not put that on stage…Sometimes it can be refreshing to see something really funny and then get kind of hit in the stomach with something really true to life.”
Brad Poer, a “ringleader” of and performer in Revolárte, emphasizes the role experience plays in the production; the writer of a piece always appears as a character in their work. “There’s quite a few pieces in here,” says Poer, “that are really at their heart just diary entries.”
One such episode is a monologue in which Mangham recounts her childhood in Georgia and the resulting sense of displacement caused by living in Montana. The same subject of place, however, is also addressed by Poer and Heberto Espinosa’s b-boy rap about Missoula, full of gems like “I like to roll down Higgins with a deer on my hood…It’s my birthright!” Potentially, these two plays might even wind up following one another.
“We’ve got a piece or two that are really intense right off the bat,” says Poer, “and there’s every possibility in the world we’ll then have to jump right into a really laid back one…While we’re not playing a character, we still need to have very tight control over making it instantly believable regardless of what the situation is.”
More than just a challenge to the actors, the form presents a challenge to the conventions of theater. All of The Cutiez now study or once studied theater, says Poer, and “We’re taught from a literary standpoint that good theater has this dramatic arc and we have to have the introduction, we have to have the rising action and the climax and the denouement and all that kind of stuff. Whereas the shortness of these pieces…let’s us experiment with jumping into the middle of something or just showing the end of something or just showing the first 30 seconds of something and letting that moment speak for itself instead of having to tell a complete story.”
Beyond the unconventional format, the evening aims to appeal to a broad audience by taking place in a bar and incorporating an opening music set by local band Good Neighbor Policy.
“We’re encouraging the audience to have a little buzz when they see the show so that everybody is a little loose,” says Poer. “It’s not your typical uptight golf clap kind of deal.”
Nor is it necessarily something to be taken lightly, adds Mangham.
“Because we’re playing ourselves, it’s a little bit more from the heart than it would be if we were just playing a character who we’re not a really a part of. In that sense, the pieces really mean more and hopefully will be more relatable to the audience because were all coming from a Missoula standpoint.”
Certainly, everybody’s bios seem to have a piece of something that goes in the show. In conversation, Espinosa describes himself as someone who “makes tacos and gets less than a 17-year-old with a GED for it.” Soon after, the same phrase surfaces on stage in a piece reflecting on his financial insecurity. Poer voices similar sentiments in another piece, one that will be familiar to many young people trying to make it in Missoula—decisions about his future where “hope and ambition duke it out with peace and comfort.”
Revolárte ends up being about more than just breeching the fourth wall by asking audience members to determine the performance’s order. In airing pieces written by performers in their own voices, Poer says the production aims at exposing actors in a way traditional theater avoids.
It shows in a criterion Poer offers for the show’s success. “If the audience leaves at the end of the show feeling like there’s a couple of people in this group that they actually feel like they know as people—not as performers but as people—then I think we’ve done our job.”
Revolárte shows Friday, April 13, at The Loft at 10:30 PM. Good Neighbor Policy opens at 9:30 PM. $8/$5 students.