Ordinary people are often full of shit. Theater people, at least when they're on stage, are always full of shit. They trick us for a living, and we pay them to trick us, because, deep down, everyone loves to be fooled.
This is one of the major themes running through Coax, an evening of unpublished plays by writer, director and playwright Neil LaBute, most famous for directing films like In the Company of Men and Nurse Betty. Even moreso than most Tricklock productions, Coax illustrates why theater accomplishes feats no other art form can.
The division between audience and performer in a movie theater is an impenetrable brick wall. In Coax, LaBute and the Tricklockers show that the division in traditional theater is never anything more than imaginary. The audience conjures up a membrane to separate themselves from the actors on stage because it makes them feel secure. In this way, they can sit in the dark and take comfort in being mere silent observers. It's all just an illusion, of course. A good performer can step with ease to the other side, spooking the bejesus out of quiet, complacent voyeurs.
Tricklock Company members Chad Brummett, Juli Etheridge and Byron Laurie along with guest performer Rhiannon L. Nix and a couple others who shall remain nameless take every opportunity to do just that. You can tell they're getting off on LaBute's whirligig mindscrews. The night I saw the performance everyone in the audience got off on them too.
That's one of the best things about this show. Labute seems intent on coaxing the audience out of its dark shell. While the performers don't ever go so far as to compel audience members to get up on stage to do stupid human tricks (thank god), Coax depends on an active audience even more than most plays. You can't just sit on your comfy padded chair and watch. That's not allowed. To an extent, however small, you have to take part.
The sequence of pieces works especially well here. All of them except the gut-wrenching first are hilarious. The set is minimalist. Except for a steering wheel, a bottle of water and a few chairs, the actors work without props. Brummett might put in the best performances, but, as usual, all the Tricklockers and their guests blaze through the show with energy and panache.
My only regret is that the evening went by too fast. These short pieces are so tasty, I would've been happy to gulp down a few more before they kicked us out of the theater. Even so, I didn't go away hungry.