The Tricklock Company deserves its stellar reputation. In show after show, they’ve gone way beyond the call of duty. For years, stuffed inside that sardine-can theater in that pathetic strip mall on Washington, they made magic seem as simple as chewing gum, and their regular tours brought that magic to audiences worldwide.
In recent times, Tricklock has been in a state of flux. The core members are still on the masthead, but they’ve brought in cycles of fresh talent. Their role as theater company in residence at UNM yanked them out of their humble strip mall beginnings, placing them in the comparatively glamorous atmosphere of the university’s much bigger, much nicer performance venues.
We’ve come to expect certain elements from Tricklock productions: demented humor, gritty sexiness, jaw-dropping physicality and an ingenious talent for doing more than we can possibly imagine with pretty damn close to nothing. We anticipate Tricklock shows because, at their best, this crew gives us theatrical inventions that can’t be anticipated, spectacles you’ve never seen elsewhere and might never see again.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen one of their plays, so I was eager to see what Belladonna was all about. Subtitled “A Rock ’n’ Roll Fairy Tale Nightmare,” the show combines ’80s tunes by Stevie Nicks, David Bowie and the like with a goofy punk rock storyline about a girl named Belladonna whose scientist father is working on a potion that will make the drinker omnipotent. Unfortunately, Belladonna’s father is kidnapped by a dictator who seeks to harness the potion’s power and spread his evil dominion over the Earth.
Belladonna tries to prevent this catastrophe by journeying to the dictator’s seat of power with her trusty pal Garfunkel, a funky little subterranean rodent with a heart of gold. Unfortunately, Belladonna is hampered by a curse that forces her to sing in the mangled lyrics of ’80s female rock stars.
I need to disclose that Abigail H. Blueher, who plays Belladonna, briefly worked as an Alibi intern a couple years ago. I’ve seen her in tiny, nondescript parts in the past, but this is the first time I’ve caught her in a starring role. I’m glad I don’t have to tiptoe around her performance. It’s excellent. In raggedy red velvet and high-top sneakers, Blueher creates a character that’s equal parts Little Red Riding Hood and Patti Smith, an elegant, punk rock, fairy tale persona that’s funny as hell in scene after scene. She’s also a fantastic singer, which is a good thing, because she spends at least half the play belting ’em out.
Juli Hendren is even funnier as her sidekick, the pigtailed Garfunkel. Kate Schroeder also puts in a vicious and fascinating performance as the golden-pantsed, hard-rockin’ villain.
The rest of the performances are all decent. Likewise, there are lots of moments that are beautifully choreographed in that beloved Tricklockian style.
For whatever reason, though, a bunch of good parts don’t add up to a satisfying whole. Part of the reason might be that much of this production feels derivative. The masks reminded me of [url]http://www.mooremedia.us/Pages/TricklockSplintersPromo.htmSplinters, a previous Tricklock production collaborated between Belladonna’s director and assistant director. The soundtrack reminded me of Juli Hendren’s one-woman show, Rot. The gory violence reminded me of Tricklock’s Love and Beauty.
Then again, being derivative isn’t a problem if the derivation is smartly done. In this case, though, all the shows mentioned above were simply better.
For one thing, the storyline here is a problem. It’s hard to do a spoof on fairy tales without coming up with ideas both original and fully fleshed. Based on a script by Juli Hendren and Aaron Hendren, the Tricklock Company itself seems to have worked out the show in rehearsal. Sadly, the play has the feel of something that’s been assembled during a committee meeting.
Take, for example, the Overlord’s demand that none of his subjects be allowed to read books. A classic fascistic touch, but the ways in which reading might have some tangible impact on the characters’ lives are never explored. Consequently, the audience is never given any reason to care that Belladonna and company aren’t allowed to read books. If it doesn’t matter to the characters, why should it matter to us?
There aren’t enough narrative surprises, either. To really make this work, you would have to jump far outside the borders of the standard fairy tale structure. As it is, the production floats in a bland demilitarized zone, lacking the charm of an actual fairy tale, while never harnessing the plutonium energy necessary to blow a familiar form to the next world.
In the end, I walked out feeling like this is still a work in progress. There are lots of enjoyable moments, but they don’t fit together the way you would expect in a Tricklock production. For better or worse, the company has set the bar high for itself, and this one just doesn’t leap high enough.
Belladonna —a play by Juli and Aaron Hendren, created by Tricklock Company, directed by Summer Olsson—runs through Dec. 2 at UNM’s Theatre X. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sundays at 6 p.m. $15 general, $12 seniors, $10 students. Special $5 student rush tickets available five minutes before every performance. (Must have valid student ID.) 925-5858, www.tricklock.com.