Keepin' It Weird

It is a rare piece of theatre that can be uplifting, enlightening, and disturbing all at once, and 'Keepin' It Weird' is such a piece

Arts Review

Keepin' It Weird

Zachary Scott Theatre Center Groten Stage, through Sept. 17

Running Time: 3 hrs

In the Zachary Scott Theatre Center's revival of last year's popular Keepin' It Weird, "weird" encompasses everything from Democratic to deranged. The typical folk of Austin are slightly crazy, the crazy folk are politically active, and the political folk are snickering at it all. Keepin' It Weird is a show composed of dialogue from more than 200 interviews with Austin personalities. Near the beginning, Mayor Will Wynn, played by Robert Newell, talks about City Council meetings where he wants to roll around on the floor but has to keep a straight face while listening to someone covered in tinfoil.

Theatre is most effective when it deals directly with its audience. Keepin' It Weird stands firmly at the center of such efficacy, combining two powerful devices: interview-based theatre and theatre of place. Interview-based theatre has become a viable and popular form of the art. One can see more and more pieces being scraped together in this manner. Writers and directors are learning that actual dialogue is often more curious than imagined dialogue. As for theatre of place, Keepin' It Weird is of the people, by the people, for the people of Austin. The show is riddled with inside jokes and self-indulgence. It would not translate well onto another city's stage, but it will get a standing ovation every time here in its hometown.

The set alone – an incredible convergence of Christmas lights, doll heads, et cetera – makes this show worth your trip to the theatre. In a city that seems fond of low production values, this is like walking into a rock concert. W-E-I-R-D in font 72,000. You know you've got a good set when one can pray to Jesus or microwave some Peeps in a giant letter R.

The cast works well as an ensemble, seamlessly flowing from character to character, scene to scene, silly to somber. No one plays the star, and no one actor stands out, although certain characters they create are particularly endearing. My favorites became Lee Eddy wigged up as City Manager Toby Futrell, who becomes one of the sober hearts of the show; Dante Dominguez's Joel Muñoz talking about his late goat, Dopey; Robert Newell's jaded Soup Peddler; and Marc Pouhé's Willis Littlefield, who wraps up the show beautifully.

Austin is proud of itself. There is value in pride, but there is danger as well. Keepin' It Weird takes a heavy turn toward exposing the "dark side of weird." It is not the man who suctions fish bowls to his breasts. It is the police officers who ignore a burning nightclub, who in fact revel in its destruction. It is citizens who are so in love with Austin that they don't want to admit the problems facing the city and aren't interested in the city facing its problems.

It is a rare piece of theatre that can be uplifting, enlightening, and disturbing all at once. Keepin' It Weird certainly achieves this. It is a tribute and an exploration. The conclusion is both one of celebration and one of concern. What was once weird is disappearing and leaving in its wake a clearer vision of the problems present. However, all of this is underlined with the joy of being an oasis, of being a place that accepts people for who they are – typical or crazy or political. If you live here, this show is worth seeing. If you live here, this show is worth listening to carefully.

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Keepin' It Weird, Zachary Scott Theatre Center, Austin plays, Robert Newell, Lee Eddy, Dante Dominguez, Marc Pouhé

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