Curtain Calls XTRA

By Donald V. Calamia

Review: "The Adventures of Captain Neat-O Man" & "Space F*ckers"

HEADLINE

Super heroes, aliens and kidnappers, oh my!

DECK

It's just the start of another season of 'coolness' at Abreact

I admit it: I'm a sucker for small, intimate, "cool" theaters.

After all, up-and-coming actors and playwrights rarely start their careers at the top of the food chain. Instead, new scripts and innovative concepts usually germinate in the out-of-the-way, under-funded and avant-garde theaters that often crop up on the fringes of a thriving theater community. It's where ideas take hold, concepts are tested and young artists sharpen their skills. And it's those theaters that help turn decaying cities "cool."

The quality of work produced by such venues varies from show to show, of course. Some are wonderfully thought-provoking, while others leave you scratching your head and asking "why". But that's part of the charm and excitement of these theaters. It's their freshness and energy that's invigorating, and who knows: The unheard of and unheralded project of today could become the Pulitzer Prize winner of tomorrow!

One such group exists on the edge of Detroit's Greektown, and a "cooler" venue would be tough to find.

After climbing the stairs that lead to the Abreact Performance Space, patrons enter a loft that looks more like someone's home than a theater. (There's a reason for that: Some of Abreact's artists actually live there!) Theater personnel warmly greet you and offer you a refreshment. Comfortable waiting areas with couches and stuffed chairs are scattered about, and a sound system softly plays music chosen from personal collections of CDs and LPs. On warm days, patrons can sit out on the fire escape and watch city life as it passes by. And four cats often scamper by looking for brief attention.

At show time - which may or may not start at the advertised time - a velvet curtain is drawn and patrons enter a black box theater. There is no reserved seating, but patrons can park themselves on a variety of couches, arm chairs, loungers and folding chairs to watch the show.

And when the lights go down, the magic begins.

Currently playing at Abreact are two original one-acts, and as you might expect, one outshines the other. (And, of course, there's nothing wrong with that!)

The evening opens with "The Adventures of Captain Neat-O Man," a somewhat amusing script that questions whether it's okay to create your own truth, and what role - if any - destiny plays in a person's life.

James Mio - in an orange tee-shirt, red cape, black briefs and blue tights - bravely and boldly plays an average, but not-so-bright twenty-something who is supposedly raised on Tang and Twinkees to help save the world from Communism and other worldly ills.

Timothy Scott Harris's script has moments of both whimsy and insight, but ultimately, it's a bit muddled. Motivations aren't always discernable; certain relationships need better definition. And judicious cutting would help make his message stronger.

Far more successful is the hilarious "Space F*ckers."

It's the year 2064 and a fierce alien race breaks into broadcasts worldwide to announce their invasion of Earth. They are on their way in a huge spaceship, they brag, and when they arrive, humankind will be eradicated.

At the same time, an alien of another kind - Ishaq from Iraq - arrives in American to make a name for himself. But he's taken hostage by an immigration officer and a robot when they learn Ishaq's mother is deathly ill. With the inheritance they plan to steal, Rob and Robot will buy a boat and flee to an island where the aliens will never find them.

The situation takes a turn, however, when a healthy Mom arrives to check on her son.

Followed shortly, of course, by the invaders.

Writer/Director Mike McGettigan brilliantly uses both original video and live theater to tell his story. TV shows, newscasts and commercials from the future have been expertly crafted to give the production a very believable mid-21st century feel. And his fresh script is full of delightful twists and turns that keep the audience laughing from start to finish.

Mike Ishaq excels as - who else? - Ishaq; James Mio returns again with another strong performance as Rob. And James Nanis plays a very convincing Iraqi woman.

And the robot? It's another technical marvel by Planet Ant's Tommy Leroy and voiced by Dax Anderson.

"The Adventures of Captain Neat-O Man" & "Space F*ckers" Presented Friday and Saturday at the Abreact Performance Space, 442 E. Lafayette, Detroit, through Oct. 16. Admission by donation. 313-378-5404.

The Bottom Line: Fun and innovative theater is alive and well - and "cool" - at Abreact Performance Space!

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