by Andrew Crisp
HomeGrown Theater's new production, The Basement Company, debuted at the Linen Building on Tuesday, Sept. 25, with its actors chained to a radiator.
At the center of this dark comedy by local writer Adam Harrell is a struggling playwright named Howard. A shut-in desperately enthralled with theater and working on a play that will never see the stage, Howard yearns to make his "child" walk on its own two legs.
But after one too many rejections, Howard decides to kidnap actors Chester, Lena and Richard to bring his creation to life. Howard is played by Idaho Shakespeare Festival's Rod Wolfe, while the kidnappees are played by ISF actors Dakotah Brown, Veronica Von Tobel and Justin Ness, respectively. ISF actress Sarah Gardner serves as director.
The first scene opens with the three kidnapped actors in very real shackles, their crisscrossed chains providing comedic relief and tricky blocking. As the actors get twisted about the stage, confined by their silver leashes, Von Tobel, Brown and Ness are put to the test of delivering lines while untangling themselves.
Those chains, however, were distracting through the first act as they clanked across the stage. Thankfully, the crashing quieted down later on, when Howard employed different means to keep his cast locked up.
Wolfe's Howard, a believably delusional theater super fan who thinks the quality of his play justifies kidnapping, delivers his first lines in a creepy, wide-eyed monologue.
Through rehearsals at gunpoint, the actors try to cope with their situation and later attempt escape. Despite a fumbled attempt at the handcuff keys and a case of Stockholm Syndrome, the show must go on.
Jokes about the old superstition of not uttering the word Macbeth, and other theater humor was peppered throughout. Richard, every bit the foppish thespian, gives articulate diatribes on the purpose of their theatrical craft, which constantly cycle back to pursuing the best performance possible given the conditions.
The play has hilarious moments as well, like when Ness is told to "fuck off" for his cheery attitude, or when Lena attempts to portray Howard's ideal strumpet.
When the performance is coming to a close, Chester points out that the ending in Howard's play is a deus ex machina, a convenient device that frees the characters from a sticky situation. And The Basement Company employs a similar trick to free its actors.
That meta quality is what makes the scene funny—Howard's terrible play ending the same as the play the audience is watching—but the execution of a brief but pivotal off-stage moment could've been tighter.
In the end, Howard learns something all struggling writers should understand: true craft comes from baring the soul.
The Basement Company continues tonight, Wednesday, Sept. 26, and Thursday, Sept. 27, at the Linen Building. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and tickets cost $10 for general admission or $8 for students and seniors.