In last week's Alibi, a guy wrote in to say how annoying it is when so-called music fans gripe about their favorite indie bands signing to major labels. He has a point. Why should anyone be upset because an artist they like has achieved some measure of tangible—that is, monetary—success?
Of course, the concern isn't merely that other, less-worthy people might latch on to a good thing. The fear is that by going mainstream artists will lose the drive they had when they were dumpster-diving for food. Their success might make them soft, fat and lazy. In a word, they might start to suck.
The Tricklock Company is our city's favorite indie theater troupe. For years, they've created provocative, funny, sexy productions in a theater at Washington and Central that wasn't much bigger than my living room. They combined the two things necessary for successful artistic achievement: talent along with a willingness to work their butts off for the cause. Time and time again, it showed.
Over the years, Tricklock grew bigger and more professional without ever sacrificing quality. They began hosting the Revolutions International Theatre Festival every January, one of our state's best annual performance events. They toured around the world. They studied and collaborated with some big-name theatrical talents.
Last year, their old landlord kicked them out, and they soon became the theater company in residence at the University of New Mexico. Last week, they opened Candide at UNM's Rodey Theatre. It's their first production in their new role at the college.
At the opening night gala, Tricklock's artistic director, Joe Peracchio, spoke about his company's future. In a lot of ways, the residency is a logical partnership. Most Tricklock members came out of UNM's theater department, so it's wonderful that they'll be able to use the university's excellent performance facilities while teaching classes and mentoring the next generation of talent in Albuquerque. At the same time, you can't help but worry that this fabulous little company will get swallowed up by UNM's bureaucracy, losing some of the vitality that made it such a force in our community.
Thankfully, Candide, a play adapted by Peracchio and Joe Feldman from Voltaire's famous satirical novella, possesses much of what we've come to love over the years about Tricklock. It's very funny. It's very physical. It has an enormous sense of style as well as fantastic choreography. It's also got quite a few scantily clad ladies.
You know from the first scene you're in for a strange and fabulous ride. A giant painting containing several cartoonish figures has cut-out face and arm holes so the actors can actually animate the painting. They proceed to give the basic background for our story.
Candide is a naïve German boy whose mentor, Pangloss, teaches him that ours is the best of all possible worlds. The rest of the story involves repeated proofs that Pangloss is a fool. Candide's friends get raped and murdered. There's a deadly earthquake. People are tortured. Others are enslaved. Religious zealots and foul aristocrats throw their weight around to the detriment of ordinary people.
In other words, ours is not even close to the best of all possible worlds. But this is a comedy, so even though a large number of people are raped and stabbed, it's all accomplished with a light (if scathing) touch. Voltaire's goal was to satirize society—the pompous “thinkers,” hypocritical religious leaders and ruthless power brokers who continue to make our world such an ugly place.
This adaptation sticks to Voltaire's basic plot, but throws in a bunch of pop culture references and catchy dance numbers. Kevin R. Elder does an exceptional job playing the oafish Candide. Chad Brummett—who doesn't do comedy all that often—is hilarious as his sidekick, Cacambo. Likewise, William Sterchi is very entertaining as the excessively optimistic Pangloss. Elsa Menendez takes a fine turn as the old lady, Rose. The large cast is rounded out by a large number of UNM student actors, all of whom do enjoyable work here.
The adaptation itself is highly inventive, as you'd expect from a Tricklock production. The sets and costumes are artful, eye-catching and astonishingly varied. Most of the songs are hysterical.
I have to say, though, that I wish they'd staged it downstairs in UNM's Theatre X. This is a big production, but I think it would've worked better if it had been scaled back a bit. The Rodey feels too big for this kind of experimental theater. I'm glad the company graduated from its cramped quarters over on Washington, but this show lacks some of the old intimacy. I hope I'm not succumbing to pointless nostalgia, but I don't think they should be too eager to abandon that intimacy. In my opinion, it's at the core of their enduring appeal.
Also, quite frankly, this show is just too damned long for this kind of goofball satirical comedy. The curtain rose at 7:30 p.m., we left the theater after 11, and there was only one intermission in between. I was entertained throughout, but it just goes on and on. It starts to feel like an episodic shaggy dog story, one funny situation leading into another funny situation leading into another funny situation and so on. The impact of Voltaire's famous finale is weakened because it's too long in coming. Ironically, if they'd lopped the thing in half, this show would have had three times the impact.
Still, I've got to say I'm proud of the Tricklockers. Despite its excessive length, Candide is a jaw-dropping, endlessly inventive piece of work, a testament to the focused creativity that's made this company the pride of Albuquerque. They've got the space now. They've got the support. Not only do they deserve their success, but I'm convinced great and surprising things will evolve from them for many years to come.