With the glut of super-serious, superhero films coming out of Marvel and DC Comics these days, it’s shows like “Meanwhile, Back at the Super Lair…,” writtten by Greg Kalleres, that seek to blast through the BS, keep things in check, and speak up with regard to the overlooked, the privileged, the undersaid, and the underpaid.
As part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival fare served up at the brand New American Theatre just off of Theatre Row, “Meanwhile, Back at the Super Lair…” plays on superhero lore while touching on some very real dysfunction in contemporary relationships – friends, lovers, flatmates (or all of the above), as well as overpaid therapists, sexism, and racism, and all within Kalleres’ laser target.
Only until very recently, most of the comic book to film adaptations have predominantly featured the white male. “Meanwhile, Back at the Super Lair…” takes a few digs at the stereotypes too-often tapped, and the diversity yet untapped.
Tongue-firmly-in-cheek, our four superheroes loll and whine, all of which are essentially squatters in a “borrowed” apartment, while awaiting the Call of the Super Hot Line. Having barely entered the 21st century – using answering machines and big red rotary phones – the millennial-esque team struggle to meet even the most basic of their self-assigned tasks, finding and stopping city-wide crime.
Jack Stehlin adroitly directs this “KaBam!” cast, which includes a troubled and angsty Human Fly (Brendan Brandt), and his flatmates, the clueless but mostly-well-meaning Silver Streak (Jeff Kongs), the slovenly and self-deprecating Rhino Man (played this night by David Schwartzbaum) and the endlessly irritated-at-the-lot, Leopard Woman, (played this night by Chelsea Brandt) who all share a tiny apartment they call their Superhero Headquarters. When investigated by the City Mayor’s appointed efficiency expert Darrell Simpson (played this night by Jaimyon Parker) they come to face potential eviction, new changes, and a likely new Super Villain.
Confronted with the practical problem inherent in their ignorance and misguided efforts, Leopard Woman defends her team, “We make people feel safe! They respect that!”
“You want a bad guy?! Go fight the racist checker at the Super Save! … They. Them. The unpredictable darkness,” said Simpson of the true evils in the Real World.
Superhero is spoken here. Most notable is Jeff Kongs’ vintage radio show-style for his Silver Streak, and the ubiquitous British Villain – used to proper effect by Brendan Brandt – in an effort to both win back his girlfriend’s attention and create a new motivation for the Team. Robert Cicchini is hysterical in multiple stereotypical parts, all of which employ a little light slapstick, some literal toilet humor, and cartoon-esque physicality. Jaimyon Parker as Simpson is perfect as he toggles between incredulity and resignation over the four ridiculous flatmates until he realizes he is ultimately part of the solution.
Some creative costume design by Chelsea Brandt and Kitty Rose uses both well and ill-fitting Spandex to high comical effect. As with Speedos, only the brave, fit, or clueless would ever dare to go, and in that respect, the Spandex unitards work.
The freshly minted refurbished digs of the New American Theater, which looks to seat about 30, utilizes the play space quite thoroughly. The set design by Dennis Jackson reflects elements of the 1960’s camp superhero shows, using the vivid primary colors to both reflect comic books of the time, which also doubled as a vehicle to sell color TV’s.
With only some mild pacing issues at the start, the sold-out show’s audience was highly responsive, and this reviewer guffawed to the point of sounding like a shill.
Produced by Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin and The New American Theatre, “Meanwhile, Back at the Super Lair…” runs at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 15, Saturday, June 16, Friday, June 22, and Saturday, June 23, 2018.
The New American Theatre is at 1312 N. Wilton Place. Some shows will feature the alternate Zap! Cast members Ronald Auguste, Christopher Frontiero, and Jade Seeley. For additional and ticket info go to “Meanwhile, Back at the Super Lair...”