This meditation on the blurring of theatre and life doesn't quite seem to fit in a punk club

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? (Photo courtesy of Jeremiah Parsons)


The Broken Neck, 4701 Red Bluff
Through Sept. 14
Running time: 1 hr.

As you enter the Broken Neck, "theatre" is probably not the first word that comes to mind. Access to this deep-East punk venue comes by way of a heavily graffitied corridor, opening up to a sizable warehouse performance space, doors ajar. You're offered complimentary bug spray at the door, the only air conditioning comes courtesy of several hard-working box fans, and the bathroom's decor is ... well, interesting. But in Bottle Alley Theatre Company's debut, playwright/director Chris Fontanes and company remind us that all the world is indeed a Stage, traditional or not. Paradoxically, it's the exploration of this thesis that serves as both the production's greatest strength and its weak link.

Stage follows the final rehearsals of a cast and crew preparing to open a new play. Obliterating the fourth wall, members of the "production team" on the play-within-a-play – including the playwright, director, and stage manager – address the audience directly (perhaps we're at an invited dress rehearsal). The professional and personal lives of Fontanes' characters intertwine seamlessly throughout the show, resulting in a blurring of boundaries that contextualizes the questions of his script: What is rehearsal, and what is performance? Where does the proscenium taper off and give way to the house beyond? When do actors stop playing scripted characters and turn back into their personal selves? These are not new questions, and other dramatists have excavated their depths. But this is where Fontane's offering is especially convincing: His script manages to create that fluidity in such a way that it results in a shared experience as much as a play.

Yet the physical frame of that play – i.e., the Broken Neck – served only to snap me out of that boundary-blurring haze. I love the space as a potential theatrical site – for The Who's Tommy or American Idiot, perhaps. It's a fantastic environment for a particular kind of show, but one that the criteria of Stage doesn't really seem to match. Now, the Bottle Alley folks certainly did the best they could to tie the space into the proceedings at hand – a worthy effort, to be sure. But the unfortunate consequence of placing Stage in such an extremely specific frame (which we desire to do 99% of the time in the theatre) is that it breaks the fluid illusion that Fontanes' script tries to evoke. Stage, perhaps, is a case for that other 1% of the time.

Go see it. It's an experience to be sure, if one perhaps better suited to other, well, stages.

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Stage, Bottle Alley Theatre Company, Chris Fontanes

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