I'm going to get right down to brass tacks and make this easy for all of you: RUN' DO NOT WALK to see the Powerhouse Theater's 'The Boomerang Kid.' Touted as a 'fully-interactive, audience-directed comedy,' the show delivered the goods every second its performers were on stage rendering wacky, bigger than life characterizations designed to remind us how insecure and vulnerable we all really are. I simply can't remember ever having more fun watching theater!
Written by Los Angeles native and part-time software consultant Chris Econn who describes the experience as '' like American Idol voting on steroids,' the play is unique in that it allows the audience to choose the path that Jack, the lead character, will take on his journey to emancipate himself from the indignity of being a 30-something still living at home. At various junctures throughout the night, Jack is faced with decisions which the audience makes for him by casting votes on touch-screen PDA's provided beforehand.
The actors then continue down the path the audience has chosen. Mind you, this is not improv, where performers make it up on the fly. Instead, the actors have memorized hundreds of pages of scenes and dialogue, never quite sure which characters will be summoned on a given night. After intermission, Jack is in the same quagmire as before, but the play is totally different as the audience makes another set of choices.
Quite obviously, this necessitates great discipline and focus on the part of the actors, and every one of them is up to the task. Though the dialogue was often clipped and rapid-fire for comedic effect, there was never any hesitancy or stammering. In short, these actors were wonderfully prepared, and the characters they created hilarious!!
Tyler Poelle plays the lead with great nuance and very capably handles the wide assortment of zany figures thrown at him from every direction. From over-sexed therapists and sadistic mental ward orderlies to sexually-ambivalent, karaoke-singing bosses, Poelle ably navigates the landscape with just the right amount of frustration, anger, despair, humor, and ennui. His facial expressions are priceless and it is easy to see he is always 'in the moment.'
Mark Engelhardt quite simply turns in one of the best performances I've seen this year. As Jack's boss Lawrence, Engelhardt is alternately pompous and domineering, and finally, laughably swishy and needy. The scenes where he forces Jack to live with him in hopes of making him his lover are side-splittingly funny as he plays it suave and calls the shots in his short silk kimono. His Rico Suave demeanor and deep, under-his-breath manner of speaking recalls Phil Hartman, and he seems to channel Colonel Flagg from M*A*S*H when he suddenly explodes in take-charge style.
Englhardt's rendering of Dr. Ellison is nothing short of brilliant! A glib character intent on sedating Jack with the wonder drug TKTK9, Dr. Ellison turns out to be a clingy and devious manipulator desperate for fame. He, nevertheless, elicits sympathy when he's revealed to be a nervous and unstable ninny. His speech to introduce Jack before the big concert is classic!! Engelhardt plays all his roles with a frenetic energy, masterfully playing it angry, cool, and uncertain all at once. Like all the performances in this show, the characterizations are over-the-top, but always believable.
Econn's challenge is more than formidable having to pen more than fifty different scenarios to accommodate the many script permutations demanded by the audience vote, but his writing is brilliant and he clearly doesn't cut corners on developing any of his characters. Kylee Rousselot is sexy and sassy as a vampish secretary with attitude, before doing a total turnabout as a schizophrenic mental patient looking for love and evoking memories of 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,' with a slightly unsettling scene where she garishly applies lipstick to a helpless Jack.
Tyler Moore is outstanding as the aforementioned sadistic orderly, tackling the part with extreme high-energy nastiness and devilish glee, urging others to 'check out my guns' before telling him what to do. His portrayal of Brian, the forever-dumped-on engineer and Jack's rival at the workplace, is also a perfect caricature. We all know, and dislike, someone just like him.
Ida Darvish has a fantastic turn as the all-business head shrink with some demons of her own, playing it prim and proper before opening her lab coat to reveal a scrumptious body which she offers to a befuddled and overwhelmed Jack. Ethan Hova provides some great moments as a shy and nervous orderly with the requisite, yet believable, shaky hands and trembling lips. His attempt to sedate Jack with a syringe' blocked out in cage-match style' is one of the funnier moments in the show.
Davitt Felder as the curmudgeonly Howard delivers outrageous crankiness in a matter-of-fact style to render some keen observations on the state of the world. He later comes back as a pretentious and flouncy Latin piano instructor, trying to inspire Jack to the great heights of concert pianist.
Acting as Master of Ceremonies through all this madness, Andrew Koenig is the narrator, who pops in at various moments to summarize Jack's predicament and instruct the audience when to vote. Koenig is straight out of 'Twilight Zone' with his thin black tie and white shirt' a laudable homage to Rod Serling.
I fear that my words fail to do justice to this wonderful show, but it truly is a must-see. The writing and direction are amazing, the acting is stupendous, and they even have a couple of tastefully done fart jokes (if there is such a thing). The thought that I only witnessed several of the many 'paths' in which the audience could have directed Jack leaves me wanting more. I'll be back' and you should be as well.
'The Boomerang Kid' is showing at The Powerhouse Theater in Santa Monica at 3116 2nd Street. Shows are Thursday-Saturday at 8pm, and Sundays at 7pm through July 14th. Call 1-866-633-6246 ext. 9 or visit www.powerhousetheatre.com for tickets.