The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Jillian Owens, March 2, 2012, Arts

Messenger No. 4 (Or ... How To Survive a Greek Tragedy)

Blue Theatre, 916 Springdale, 684-3220
Through March 4
Running time: 2 hr.

You might think you know metatheatre. But you don't really know meta. Not until you've experienced the play-within-a-play-within-a-play-within-a .... Well, let's just say, the delightful tongue-in-cheek layering of reality you'll find at Cambiare Productions' latest offering, Messenger No. 4 (Or ... How To Survive a Greek Tragedy).

In a new script, playwright/director Will Hollis Snider riffs on that good old Greek tragic convention: the messenger – that trusty eyewitness who will fill us in on what's just happened offstage when, say, Jocasta hangs herself out of our view. In Messenger No. 4, Snider gives us Narrative Inc., a firm that pledges to make plays better by dispatching messengers to save the day with play-traveling wristwatches. But Messenger No. 4, played by the utterly charming Andrew Rodgers, is dissatisfied with sticking to the script. And he's especially sick of Euripides. After falling in love with Electra's levelheaded sister Chrysothemis, our hero is desperate to tell a story of his own (starting to see the meta here?) and teams up with a Rogue Messenger, who knows how to escape the iron fist of Narrative Inc.'s evil CEO (dun dun DUNNN!). Will No. 4 beat the bad guy? Get the girl? Learn to speak in iambic pentameter?

Though the plot has some holes, a hysterical wild-goose chase through the Western canon ensues, with much to amuse the literary minded and theatre illiterate alike. References to the Back to the Future trilogy abound. (I'll go ahead and admit that the first film came out before I was born.) An energetic and rather good-looking ensemble navigates the silly and sometimes, according to one of the characters, shitty dialogue with ease. Clever staging, effective costumes by Glenda Barnes, and goofy homemade sound effects further propel the production through different play-realities and keep the audience grinning.

Snider's gleeful sound design has us humming along to action-movie theme songs and a dozen classical songs that everyone can hum but few can name. Ia Ensterä's set of mismatched antique wooden doors and shutters, though a marvel to behold, seems to have been designed for Paper Moon Repertory's whimsical The 21 Would-Be Lives of Phineas Hamm, the other play in this double-feature production. The set certainly doesn't detract from Messenger, but then again, it doesn't add anything either.

Messenger No. 4 ends with all the indulgent goodies I could ever want in a play: an epic sword fight between Shakespeare and Hamlet, a humorously obvious deus ex machina, and a toe-tapping, full-fledged song-and-dance number. I left the theatre with such giddy satisfaction that I'm smiling just thinking about it.

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