TAO’s two takes on Reservoir Dogs
Theater Artists Olympia has taken on some tough challenges. This one has paid off in great performances, excited audiences, and lots of blood and gore. It is also — at least in the early scenes — a laugh riot.
The play is based on the Quentin Tarantino movie and directed by Pug Bujeaud, and they are doing two versions: one with an all-male cast and one with an all-female cast. I should not have to warn those who are familiar with Tarantino’s work that it is filled with profane language, including sexist and homophobic remarks and the most offensive of racial slurs. And there is more graphic violence in this play than in any play I’ve seen, with the possible exception of TAO’s Titus Andronicus, which was also directed by Bujeaud.
There is sometimes a fine line between art and pornography, and Reservoir Dogs is art. It is outstanding art.
On a very limited budget and in a tiny performance space, this cast and crew have created riveting theater. The set designed by Marko Bujeaud and Michael Christopher (who plays Blonde in the male cast) consists of a table top, some chairs and some moveable boxes with everything painted a dull battleship gray. This stark set enhances the gritty action, as does the videography by Two Bards Productions and the great ’70s music. The shatteringly climactic scene is choreographed to “Stuck in the Middle With You,” choreography by Christian Doyle.
There is no way I can single out every actor whose performance deserves recognition, because they all do. I will mention a few whose acting is extraordinary.
In the female cast Jennifer Rifenbery is cold as ice as Blonde. Her acting is the epitome of self-contained energy. Whereas Rifenbery’s Blonde comes across as calculating and evil, Heather Christopher’s Pink is a wisecracking, smartass, streetwise broad who doesn’t put up with anything, doesn’t trust anyone, and flies off the handle at the slightest provocation. Christopher’s acting is a joy to watch.
Heather Cantrell as Nice Guy Eddie and Dana Galagan as Jo are both explosive, and Kate Ayers plays White as a pent-up bundle of nerves.
This whole female cast is deserving of an award for ensemble work. So is the male cast.
The differences between the all-female and all-male casts are subtle but fascinating to observe.
Like Rifenbery in the female cast, Michael Christopher plays Blonde as a cool customer, but his performance is more humorous. Both are chilling in meting out calm and measured mayhem, but Christopher does it with maniacal glee. Similarly, Christian Doyle and Cheyanne Logan are each convincing as the gut-shot Orange and turn in powerful performances in the climactic scenes, but in the earlier scenes Doyle plays it with sly humor and Logan is more naturalistic.
Brian Jansen’s Pink makes Heather Christopher’s Pink look even more manic by comparison; Jansen’s Pink is more subtle but equally funny. Mentioning these differences in approach is not in any way to imply that one is better than the other. They are all excellent, and each brings something unique to the stage.
Other outstanding performances by the men were those of, Tim Shute as Joe, and Tim Samland as Holdaway.
Doing both a male and a female version was Bujeaud’s idea, and it was brilliant. Unless you are easily offended by excessive cursing and violence you really should get yourself down to The Midnight Sun and see this play. If possible, take in both. There are discounts for the double feature, the “Gender-Blender Special.”
Theater Artists Olympia: The beastly behavior of “Reservoir Dogs”
When Quentin Tarantino’s first directing effort, Reservoir Dogs, landed in 1992, I’d never seen anything like it. That’s not to say there’d never been anything like it. No, Tarantino came of age as a video clerk, and as I dug deeper into Netflix, I found similarities to any number of obscure films QT admits he knew. I don’t believe that takes anything away from his achievement, mind you, but it’s contextually important as we discuss Theater Artists Olympia‘s live-on-stage reenactment of Tarantino’s pastiche of homages.
On the off chance you’ve never seen the movie, here’s the gist: a crime boss named Joe Cabot and his adult son, “Nice Guy Eddie,” hire six thugs under pseudonyms to pull a diamond heist. The heist, which we never see, goes utterly sideways, and the thieves reassemble at their hideout to ascertain what went wrong. They decide there’s a snitch among them, guns are drawn, guns are fired and it all gets rather bloodily Jacobean.
Director Pug Bujeaud stages the screenplay with no intermission – nothing more, nothing less. Only about two minutes’ worth of material is presented in audio or video form, though a few scenes are juggled. There’s even a title sequence. But wait! Performances alternate between all-male and all-female casts. I caught the male cast at its final dress rehearsal. The show was slickly produced, and its cast, especially Brian Jansen as Mr. Pink, was quite good indeed. Jansen plays Pink as if he never heard of Steve Buscemi, and reminds us that when directors call for more energy, they usually mean urgency. Jansen has it in spades. I also enjoyed Tim Shute as hard-assed Joe Cabot and Gabe McClelland’s stentorian Nice Guy Eddie.
Again, it’s all gamely produced and hit the audience with a roar of gunshot cool, yet I found it left me dispirited. Michael Christopher plays Mr. Blonde with a singsong sociopathy, and the gory Stealers Wheel scene is presented completely intact (with photoreal prosthesis by Mass FX). I’m pretty sure all 272 cinematic instances of the F-bomb are included, and the thieves speak to each other in odious strains of racist, sexist, homophobic invective. It was awful behavior in 1992 and feels doubly so now. I know they’re not good people, but holy cow, these are truly awful people. I wondered how scenes like the famous diner exegesis of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” will play coming out of women’s mouths.
I admired TAO’s production. I sure did. I just I can’t say I enjoyed it. It crawled under my skin and stayed there for hours, idly brandishing a straight razor.