Last Saturday, a week ago I know, I went down to Fair Park to be a part of the developmental panel for N47's reading of Kevin Kautzman's IF YOU START A FIRE [BE PREPARED TO BURN] directed by Michael Federico and starring Brian Witkowicz, Dana Jensen and Aspen Taylor. I met up with Kevin beforehand to talk about the musical that I have been writing with Patrick and Olivia Emile, a couple of Denton business owners and old hands at the DFW music scene. Last week, before the crippling heat that will be summer came in, it was a beautiful night to be out and walking around Fair Park and Exposition Ave. Something I love about readings of new work is the sense that anything could happen, there is a flavor of the unknown about what is about to take place. I was asked to be on a few developmental panels this time around and I don’t want to air things that happened in the response to the reading, but the focus of a reading is on the text rather than on the performance. That said, the performances were funny and engaging and the text, well...lets get to the text, shall we?
Once I walked into the theatre and let myself be taken for a hilarious ride on Kautzman's text, I knew it was going to be a night that ended well. Kautzman's script is one that perfectly captures the head space of the internet generation; episodic, profane and...intelligent. After reading and seeing enough of Kevin's work, I have come to expect a certain amount of philosophizing from his characters, in this case a dropout philosophy student and his MBA seeking girlfriend. The characters inhabit a space in the current recession, neither completely disenfranchised nor completely alright financially; Chris and Lucy are exactly where I have been for a majority of my adult life, the limbo between high school and adulthood. It shouldn't come as a shock that I love the script, I have looked at it for production in the past and will continue to consider it in the future.
In the spirit of the talkback, I will focus on the text in this review. Underneath the hilarious premise of the piece, that an unemployed college dropout and his girlfriend start sex-cam sites in the same apartment, is a troubling voyeurism/personal limits question that confronts the audience. Told in two acts with multiple scenes, the play tracks the...success of Luxxx and Crixxx as they become internet entrepreneurs. Chris makes a point early on about controlling ones entry into the American Dream, one that I think is the point of this play. Control. Being able to control your own destiny and to make sure that you get everything that you think you deserve in life. Control is also at the root of the breakdown of the story, the characters see their ability to control waning as the true nature of live shows becomes apparent. In one episode, an episode with a large cucumber, Big (underscore) Ben, played by Tom Parr IV, asks Crixx to place said cucumber in his bum, the humor gives way to uncomfortable which gives way to a feeling of violation as Crixx performs with the cucumber. When I read the script, this scene was troubling on paper. It made me feel like something creepy was happening and the funny/sexy part of the scene fell away. In performance, Parr was so funny that it overshadowed what I think was the playwrights intent; to make the audience feel that their boundaries were being pushed and that, like it or not, we were seeing some kind of vegetal rape happening.
Chris becomes disenchanted with his new found fame and regular paycheck, Lucy becomes the powerful businessperson who won’t say no to a client. She pushes Chris, who was the originator of the website idea, beyond his boundaries with the same Big (underscore) Ben when she accidentally steps on camera during a session. We end the play in a large mansion with Chris in one room and Lucy in another each absorbed in what has been gained through the experience.
It should be pointed out that large portions of the text are either messages back and forth or chats within the camshow environment. Kautzman has succeeded in creating a play that requires technology to be integrated into the performance, something that I find interesting and challenging at the same time. In creating work that requires technology, Kautzman reminds us of the nowness of the piece. If a theatre was interested in producing the script, it would only take the right group of people, with the right tech brain, to make it happen. It isn’t a script for every theatre, but it could be quite compelling to see fully staged if the technology were allowed to become part of the play in the design rather than a gimmick. In the text, it isn’t a gimmick, it’s a given.
Kautzman had a production of IF YOU START A FIRE in Ypsilanti, Michigan and one coming up in NYC in May.
I’ll be back down in Fair Park tonight for the reading of ORPHAN ECHOES by Ethiopian playwright Bezachin Jifar who will be in attendance at the reading. Come out and take part in the fun! The reading is at 8 and it’s Pay-what-you-can and BYOB!