Sitting in the intimate Marroney Theatre, audience members rifled through the playbill and chattered anxiously as we all waited for the folding red curtains to rise.
“In the beginning there was wasteland—but that’s boring,” the narrator said as the curtain stopped rising. Instead, we were transported to a land of extravagance, a world of pharaohs and kings and epic heroes. Marroney Theatre transformed into a movie set.
Yesterday’s showing of “Epic Proportions,” the first play of the Arizona Repertory Theatre’s season, went extremely well. The jam-packed crowd was laughing at every zany twist and crazy turn, but the audience took on responsibility, as well, as we were “cast” as extras in the movie.
The play takes place in the Arizona desert on set for a 1930s epic film production. Benny, a dreamer and an ambitious young man, moves to the set to pursue his aspirations to act. Benny's rugged, somewhat swaggering brother, Phil, who came to bring him home, follows him to the set.
The two brothers end up staying and getting increasingly involved in the production, especially after they both fall in love with the assistant director, Louise.
The structure of the story requires the actors to manage the difficult task of acting like they are acting. Some scenes unfold in front of the imaginary camera and some are behind it, bending the notion of reality and constantly ushering in doubt of what's real and what's not.
“It’s about being honest,” said musical theatre sophomore Zachary Zupke, a rare underclassman lead. “Benny wants to be the best that he can be, so I’m trying to portray that.”
Reversals at every turn, deceit at every corner—the play, in many ways, grapples with the notion of being an individual and breaking from that anonymous and nameless mass of people, or as Benny would say, “being discovered.”
In their break from anonymity, the characters faced a gargantuan identity crisis. Constantly flipping between characters, emotion and even (to great hilarity) states of physical distress, the performers struggled to find a reality that felt grounded and natural.
Love scenes fell flat and anger felt forced. It was as if the characters could only come alive in the whirling absurdity of the plot, breathing life from the audience’s laughter.
Strangely enough, this didn’t seem to matter.
Sure, the drama of the piece was lacking with no gut-wrenching moments to pull me onto the edge of my seat, but perhaps those aren’t the most important moments of the play. After all, we all know how loves scenes go—we’ve all seen that movie before.
Indeed, the climax of the play is only sparked by the sudden and overwhelming cooperation of the massive crew, holding the director at sword-point and demanding to be allowed to go home. This is a moving sentiment, considering the chaos and disarray that preceded it.
The play constantly toys with the idea of individualism. Even the nameless mass of extras (the audience) is divided up into groups: one, two, three and four.
In one memorable scene, the assistant director, Louise, along with some helpers, provides examples of crowd work by teaching you how to react in awe and wave in excitement. Each helper's demonstration is comically unique—but not to worry, it blends into the one homogeneous crowd.
What cuts across this barrier of identity in "Epic Proportions" is the notion of passion.
“Passion informs the whole idea of the play,” said acting and musical theatre junior Tyler West. West played Carl and various other roles throughout the play.
In the end, whether it’s a hero standing above his foe or a mass of people simply deciding that they want to go home (“I have kids, and divorce papers to sign,” said the washed-up Queen of the Nile, at one point). It’s the passion and intensity with which the performances were given that makes “Epic Proportions” sing.
See the play at the UA's Marroney Theater now until Oct. 9.
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