“Gearhead and the Realbot”: Sylistically ‘Josie and the Pussycats’ yet Grinds the Gears of Reality!

The Realhead Program: Totally represents the energy of the show, Photo by Jennifer K. Hugus for the Los Angeles Beat

The Realhead Program: Totally represents the energy of the show, Photo by Jennifer K. Hugus for the Los Angeles Beat

The stage is somewhat dusky as David Bowie’s Major Tom invested voice croons out the speakers, followed swiftly by Peter Schilling’s somewhat more frantically aggressive rejoinder.  (Science fictioney tomes all of ‘em.)  The set looks vastly space-shipey, complete with a grand-sweeping command deck positioned decidedly above what I will come to term the “planetary/terrestrial adventure zone”.

As the lights dim for the beginning of Act I, fluorescent stars glow heavenward and a not quite costumed character alights the stage.  Well…not that he is naked or in a bikini or anything, just that his costume/character (I will come to find out) consists mainly of a hand puppet the likes of which Jim Henson might have inspired. He will swiftly introduce himself as the steward of the Pomegranate Fizz (the soon-to-be-introduced adventure vessel known as the ship!)   The actor in question…?  Unknown Artists’ own Travis James Riner.   He will then tell us the piece in question, written by Bob Simpson and Directed by Matt Ritchey, has been work shopped in the Play Club West Writers’ lab and is now readily submitted for our approval.

Riner then lays the traditional instructions and admonishments on us, “Please turn off all cell phones and electronics because we have a bigger stage than you and we have weapons. …[If you DID like the show, you may donate money], if you DIDN’T like the show, give us more money and that’ll teach us!” Cheeky ey…? 😉

As the lights dim completely, the glowing stars get even brighter! The spacey sound effects swell to crescendo and I can’t help but feel the enchantment of waiting to board a ride at Disneyland or enter some exhibit at a Star Trek-themed restaurant!  (Why aren’t there such places BTW and/or if so, why haven’t I heard of them?—But I muse to digression…)

Lights up on Lieutenant Varla Solin, played by the strong and sophisticated Emily Clark along with Howard “Gearhead” Batch portrayed by a sincere and sympathetic Tony N. Thompson.  Gearhead, our anti-heroic hero is clearly out of his element as he is not even allowed to be up on the command deck unless something is really wrong…and something is really wrong…  Commander Burt Philbin played by a wonderfully irascible John Ross Clark is a loose cannon (not even close to having the temperament worthy of taking over Regis’ seat), Corporal Holly Henderson portrayed by a lusciously ditzy Tiffany Brain is a narcissistic scatter brain and Captain Hawk Manthicket played by the Puddy-voiced (read Patrick Warburton), windbaggish, somewhat Shatneresque, Schoen Hodges is a completely dimwitted, sexist boob!!!

Photo Courtesy of Michelle Cohen Carpenter

Photo Courtesy of Michelle Cohen Carpenter

Oh…and also, God, the ship’s goddess-voiced computer is in need of some tech support…

From the play’s beginning the ship’s cast of denizens read like something from the island of misfit toys and further include The Doc a maniacally perky, plucky and exacting space doctor played by the equally energetic Sabrina Carmichael.  Highly unorthodox, one of her first diagnoses involves the prescription of some Vicodin for the “rash” on Captain Manthicket’s “gooch”.  Otherwise pill happy, she prescribes all manner of Space Xanex, Space Vicodin…Space Kaopectate, never forgetting to put the word “space” in front of all of them! (Except for Captain Manthicket’s “man” Vicodin which I’m guessing she didn’t want to put any “space” between as I am quite certain she is in love with him.)

Timmy, The Doc’s somewhat screechy-voiced, 12-year-old son is a starry-eyed space enthusiast who wants to know everything there is…and be just like the Captain (poor misguided child…)

Honk just says “Honk” a lot and is portrayed and/or operated by our play’s introductory speech giver Travis James Riner.  Honk’s character consists of a purplish brownish looking dog puppet attached to the human that is Riner and it is unclear as to whether or not he is supposed to represent a two headed monster, a puppet/dog with a man attached to him, some interspecies/intergalactic Siamese twins or a frustrated, out-of-work ventriloquist…  All the same, it matters not as I see exactly how this character fits into the big picture and what he is supposed to represent even if ineffably spacey and incoherent…

And these are just the misfits on the ship.  The colorful cavalcade of characters does not stop there.  For once the Pomegranate Fizz receives its first distress call; down to the terrestrial adventure zone they go to pick up two more in the guise of the Evil Dr. Zellius Zee, played by the deliciously devious and somewhat Stewie Griffin accented Andy Kenareki along with his kind and beautiful daughter; the decidedly Disney Princessish Marigold (whom Manthicket continually refers to as “Mysterious Hot Lady”) played by a sweet and endearing Amy Bartlett.

Once given full access to the ship by the dimtwitted Manthicket, Dr. Zee’s obnoxious plan is wholly actualized as is the full identity of his daughter as an accessory—albeit an unwilling one…mostly…  It is only Gearhead who can break through Marigold’s barriers and turn her from the dark to the light as he, in turn, admits that he never particularly cared about life or weather he lived or died before meeting our villainess turned heroine.

The production is a fun and energetic romp that literally makes you feel almost like you’ve stepped into nearly every sci-fi TV show or movie ever witnessed…and figuratively like you’re feeling William Shatner’s teeth.  The set, though relatively sparse, does the job in taking the audience along in spacial and foreignly terrestrial transit alike.  The costumes:  wonderfully cartoonish to cinematic and the acting is perfection.  Earnest, to campy, to mellow dramatic in all the right places, the overall performances waged within their respective environments are marvelously magical!

My only element of constructive criticism would have to do with the writing. Though each of the two acts run less than one hour, Act I feels a little plodding and spends far too much time on Captain Manthicket and Corporal Holly Henderson; focusing a little too much on how clueless and self absorbed they both are without any real plot forwarding or thickening attributes.  Devoid of any deliciously Gracie Allenish one-liners or Archie Bunkeresque malapropisms, the banter feels a little flat, if not repetitive and the only scenes (within the confines of Act I) that I felt truly worked were their introductions and the final scene of the first act wherein Lieutenant Varla Solin attempts to warn Manthicket of Dr. Zee’s impending plan while he is trying to seduce her, wearing some very fluffed, red underwear until passing out in his own drink.

As a matter of fact, it isn’t until the audience is introduced to Dr. Zee and Marigold that the story truly begins (in my mind) and the jokes, as I had anticipated them, fully and organically emerge.

The humor in question?  Satire—sweet, sweet delicious satire which is much more abundant in the second act:

Some of my favorite examples include Manthicket being introduced on Dr. Zee and Marigold once having boarded the ship.

–The professor and his daughter.

Captain Manthicket-Which one’s the daughter?

–Dr. Zee announcing his plans over the intercom, indicating the timeframe until they take hold, then coming back on the intercom after Gearhead has mused, out loud, that he can fix the damage in that amount of time, only to exclaim, “It occurs to me now that I should have made these announcements later, lest some of you try and stop me!”

–Dr. Zee, again, declaring an additional plan but not before going into some history as to how he came to the decision, “Okay, was that sufficient back story for you all…?”

Regarding the above…?  I wanted to see more!  I also wouldn’t have minded one or two more suspenseful, silly subplots.

My only other reservation lies in the character Timmy, the bright-eyed, 12-year-old Captain Idolater.  I get what he is supposed to represent in the grand satirical theme of things, but feel the shunting of his character goes a little too far.  Calling a kid “it” and (I know some might find this wildly darkly humorous) having him polish nuclear arsenal just to get him out of the way, hedges a bit too much at child abuse and/or neglect for me…and maybe it is just me.    But it makes me uncomfortable…and not in a good and thought provoking way… As the old saying goes, “Never work with kids or dogs.”   I am also of the credo that it’s best not to work against them either…

I wouldn’t mind seeing Timmy’s character replaced by some weird, random guy who’s somehow gotten on the ship and nobody knows how.  He never talks and has bizarre mannerisms and nobody knows what he does all day or how to deal with him.  It isn’t until the end that he surprises the crew and villain(s) alike with his mad Timmy-like skills!  He might additionally reveal his identity—and bam, mystery, suspense, odd comedy added all in one fell swoop!

All in all, aside from those couple points of contention, I thought the overall production was wonderfully well done and excitingly energetic and would absolutely recommend it regardless.

“Gearhead and the Realbot” runs through March 8th Fridays at 8 pm and Saturdays at 7 and 10 pm at the:

DORIE THEATRE at THE COMPLEX
6476 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90038

For tickets and additional information, please visit:

http://iamanunknownartist.wordpress.com/

Jennifer K. Hugus

About Jennifer K. Hugus

Jennifer K. Hugus was born at a very young age. At an even earlier age, she just knew she would one day write for the LA Beat! Having grown up in Massachusetts, France, and Denmark, she is a noted fan of Asian Cuisine. She studied ballet at the Royal Danish Ballet Theatre and acting at U.S.C. in their prestigious BFA drama program. She also makes her own jewelry out of paints and canvas when she isn’t working on writing absurdist plays and comparatively mainstream screenplays. Jennifer would like to be a KID when she grows up!
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