Guilds of Steel / Faster Than the Speed of Light
Improv offers a nerdgasm for fantasy fans, but the sci-fi musical's gears rarely mesh
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., June 12, 2009
Guilds of Steel/Faster Than the Speed of Light
Salvage Vanguard Theater
Fantasy and science fiction: This month, Salvage Vanguard Theater is split in twain like an old Ace paperback, with one show of each running in its two spaces. Among the improv offerings on SVT's second stage is fantasy-world-based Guilds of Steel, while sci-fi musical Faster Than the Speed of Light takes the main stage.
Strap on your jet packs and power up your spells of healing, citizen, as we probe the twinned genre hearts of this binary star system ...
Guilds of Steel
Through June 27
Running time: 1 hr
This improvisational show stages a view into the lives (in-game and IRL) of players of a World of Warcraft-like massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Conceived by Bryan Roberts, directed by him and Michael Joplin, and performed by that talented pair and a cadre of improvisers from local troupes – Available Cupholders, Improv for Evil, Look Cookie, et al. – Guilds of Steel is a perfect ground in which to farm comedy gold. A bunch of gamers off on one quest or another, interacting with the demons and goblins and sprites of a phantasmagorical otherworld, each adventure informed by audience suggestion from the start ... what's not to love?
There's a lot to love, actually, whether it's the lightning-quick cleverness of the performers themselves, the way their characters respond to ridiculous situations in-game, or the glimpses of their quotidian lives AFK. Like, how's a high-level Technomage supposed to battle the trio of lava monsters that guard the fabled Emerald of Ultimate Awesomeness when his RL girlfriend is breaking up with his sorry ass offline?
This circumstantial troupe, being so newly formed, can't provide the most cohesive of narratives; every show includes a few missteps, misinterpretations of intent that spin erratically while the players conjure wacky rationalizations for non sequiturs. But that pretty much comes with the improv territory and is part of the cumulative hilarity; saving-gracewise, there are this show's beacons of performance – Roberts and Joplin, along with Ace Manning and Audrey Sansom – expertly lighting the way for the other talents to follow. Also, Night Elf Priest (and GOS poster girl) Princess MiaKitty, aka improv newcomer Sarah Tufts, who especially seems like giggly pixels made flesh.
If you like improv or enjoy adventures in MMORPGs, we recommend this show; if you're a fan of both those things, we'll merely point you toward the theatre door and brace ourselves for the ensuing nerdgasm.
Faster Than the Speed of Light
Through June 13
Running time: 2 hr
What else would we expect but a terrific, mind-blowing show from Stanley Roy Williamson of the dance trio Little Stolen Moments and Jeremy Roye of the band Fiction? Well, we're still expecting one, but this musical conflagration isn't it.
We're most familiar with Williamson's performance, angelic vox, and ukulele-based songsmithing from his gigs with those Moments, and, there, his magnetic stage presence and quirky love ballads (imagine: Smokey Robinson collaborating with Björk after listening to a Gary Numan album) are perfectly displayed and hit you like a ton of bricks of aural pleasure; co-conspirator Roye (imagine: Prince is Caucasian) also has a fine voice and knows how to work a pose. But the two creators have embedded their best parts in a sci-fi fable that, as realized onstage, is clunkier than a robot built from toasters and duct tape, which only detracts from the better songs that it dumps interstitial material between. A love story about an inventor who goes the Pygmalion/Galatea route only to find that his creation is actually – and so on and so forth and why are we supposed to care? Can't we just have Williamson and Roye onstage with ukuleles and no costumes and no attempts at backstory and no distracting set-pieces, and maybe also their female foil (Kathleen Fletcher), strumming and singing their hearts out?
Just once do the gears of this pinchbeck machine mesh to provide a scene worthy of the individuals involved (and the excellent backing band): the number "I Am Frankenstein," which possesses none of the flaws of the rest of the show and makes us wish it were available as a single music video so we could virus it through the Internet. We reckon the responsibility for this brief goodness is shared equally by director Kelli Bland and choreographer Lindsey Taylor, but neither they nor their team can overcome the rest of this mad-scientist-meets-club-kids mishmash.