Dallas — With a title like Night of the Tarantubears, audiences might be tempted to think this is a lesser offering in the artistic panoply of Metroplex theater, but the schlocky spoof title is part of the devious smokescreen devised by cowriters Jeff Hernandez and Brad McEntire (who also directed it). While the masses think they’re just indulging in jump scares and apocalyptic fantasy, they’re really being exposed to high quality theater.
Well, played Audacity Theatre Lab. Well, played.
The scheme starts with preshow music of matinee sci-fi flicks interrupted by radio talk show callers describing troubles with the half-bear/half-tarantulas that started out as a fad pet. The Margo Jones Theatre plays itself with furniture and rehearsal blocks thrown about in ad hoc barricades. Part of the fun of imagining the end of the world is envisioning everything you know torn apart, after all. Director/designer McEntire doesn’t disappoint, even employing the doors and lobby for some of the action. This performance happened at sundown, which conveniently coincided with the plot. As gimmicky as the site-specific references to Fair Park may sound, there were genuine shivers as the last light of the day left the lobby.
Kasey Tackett plays the ubiquitous narrator/survivor. As Anderson, he rattles off what seems like inconsequential commentary on our society’s preoccupation with cat videos. The ingenious link is that the unthinking fascination with those videos is the same reason the bearantulas, er, tarantubears took off. In this way, the writers follow a long tradition of sci-fi/horror authors taking society’s ills to an extreme. The old trope of an old man staring into a hobo fire saying, “Nobody knows how it started” is here replaced by a young guy shaking his head in wonder at the viral growth of a fad.
Before things get that cerebral, though, the character Crossbow Joan bolts into Anderson’s hideout at the theatre. Dani Martin plays her with surprising honesty, which sets the stage literally for the scenes to come. The second couple to find refuge in the Margo Jones coincidentally is Collin (Brian Witkowicz) and Samantha (Miller Pyke). She has recently broken up with him and even more coincidentally has gone on a date with Anderson. To round out the fun, far-fetched nature of this whole endeavor, Whitney Holotik plays a thick accented Government biologist, Dr. Betrüger. There are lots of flashbacks and narration, but all in all the storytelling tightly mounts the tension, even employing giant spider legs at times.
Despite the perfectly hokey effects (provided by Ruth Engel-McEntire), this cast plays the show with high stakes. Better effects would actually work against the magic of the evening. The unabashed theatrical tricks leave the audience more susceptible to the intensity of the acting. Which is made possible by the efficacy of the scenarios dreamt up by the writers and the capable cast’s dedication. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Tackett and Pyke’s chemistry was well established in their self-produced, self-written one-acts last year. And then, of course, Witkowicz has his loser-trying-to-rise-above-his-limits type of character well honed. And, Holotik, who doubles as the girlfriend to Crossbow Joan, has proven adept at creating chemistry on area stages. Taken all together it should come as no surprise how easily this evening appears.
With a few tweaks this fun script could make regional rounds, but the real success would depend on the people involved. That is unless, of course, the creators could bottle the essence of the cast. It’s not as strange as it sounds.
They are Audacity Theatre…LAB!