A philandering poet, a pair of clowns and a woman on the verge of burning her house down. These are several of the characters played by Jeff Andersen and Lila Martinez in Blackout Theatre Company’s latest original work, Stories of Us: A Guide to Home Improvement.
Stories of Us opens with “The Ups & The Downs,” vignettes by Barney Lopez that explore the peaks and valleys of the bond between lead characters Yolanda and Jesse. They meet, fall in love, fall out of love and part ways—but not necessarily in that order. Before the short begins, the audience is asked to rearrange a series of 17 photographs that represent scenes in the couple’s life, and that’s the order in which they’re performed.
“Boxes” is cute and lively, and like the short before it, venturesome in style. But the wordless physicality, though a bold choice, lacks narrative clarity. Are they moving somewhere? Are they building something? Through the confusion, though, Bien captures something genuine about the way people relate to one another, and there are a few laugh-out-loud moments. Actor Andersen’s comedic talents are particularly strong—and not just in “Posey.” His performance lends a goofy, endearing humor to his characters that makes all of them charming even in their most unlikeable moments.
“The House that Kyle and Darlene Broke” by Shannon Flynn is a highly charged conclusion to the evening. Darlene, desperate to revive the passion in her marriage, has soaked her kitchen floor in gasoline and has a lighter at the ready. But, she quickly informs her husband, she is willing to forgo arson if he will punch through their kitchen wall instead.
Her need to see the house reflect the brokenness of their relationship is palpable. When she tells Kyle that if he just punches the wall everything will be OK, it's convincing, as illogical as it may seem. The stakes are high, and the question of how the scenario will play out is gripping.
Blackout is one of the most ambitious theater companies in Albuquerque. Its work—including a full-length original rock musical, and an adaptation of A Christmas Carol involving puppetry and live music—consistently takes big risks and pushes creative boundaries. Stories of Us, with its experimentation in structure and style, is no exception. Though flawed, the production is polished, professional and original.