Monday, May 23, 2011

Theater review: 'Splat' says it all at Imago

 Danielle Vermette in Splat at Imago/Photo: Sumi Wu
By Barry Johnson

"Splat" is a perfect Carol Triffle word, a cartoon word, what happens when Wily Coyote runs seven invisible steps past the cliff edge, tumbles like a shot into the abyss and flattens himself on the canyon floor. Splat!!! It's visceral and funny, but also matter-of-fact, maybe even a little macabre.

Triffle's new show at Imago is called "Splat," which is why I bring it up, and the play fits the word. It's one-part horror movie, one-part demented musical and one-part situation comedy with a little burlesque slapstick thrown in for good measure.  It has a body in the basement (though sometimes you can't keep a good man down), a heist, Dumb and Dumber, a femme fatale, a double-cross or two and a professional Cleaner who allegedly knows how to dispose of a body (like the one in the basement). All that in something around an hour without an intermission!

As the improbable events of "Splat" unfolded (they are so improbable that characters breaking suddenly into song and dance don't seem unreasonable at all), I wondered how "accessible" it would all be to an audience unacquainted with Triffle's work in this vein. Would Danielle Vermette's come hither looks and awkward tumbles on the couch seem as funny to them as they do for me, a veteran of such past Triffle/Vermette episodes as Simple People and The Dinner and Backs Like That? Or would it seem about half-past silly?

Which, by the way, it is -- they wouldn't be wrong. But something else is going on, too, in the little parallel universe that Triffle has imagined, something about vulnerability and the fear of being tricked, the fear of missing out, the fear of being alone. Also the fear of a hand coming off, but that's something else again.

You never know what's coming next in Triffle's world, except maybe that none of the characters is   going to be "improved" by his or her experience. That's one of the pleasures -- forget the stories and psychology you know; they won't come in handy. The other pleasure is the acting company, which animates these characters, especially Vermette, whose moment-by-moment "fluctuations" are delicious. And, of course, Jerry Mouawad, as the Cleaner, who manages to manifest both "bombast" and "defeat" without losing his elasticity as a character.

Elasticity -- that's another lesson we might derive from Triffle, our capacity, like Wily Coyote, to go splat and still go on, emotionally and physically. Splat isn't something to fear, it's just something that happens.

NOTES

1. Carol Triffle's take on my take of The Dinner explains a lot.

2. So does her interview with Jerry Mouawad on the Imago blog, where she says, "This show is like watching old movies and TV shows.  It has a little of sit-com, Jerry Lewis, the Honeymooners, Film Noir and Westerns." Jerry Lewis would be a great Imago actor -- and most of the great comedians from the Silent Era.

3. Katie Griesar's music is integral to the effects of Splat. I've also written about her and her music.

4. Here's Marty Hughley's review of the play for The Oregonian.

5. If you want to see for yourself, the show continues at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, through June 4 at Imago, 17 SE 8th Ave. Tickets are $8.

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