Five Cooks in the Kitchen?

The Duplicates shake up the recipe for theatre

May I have some more, please?: Travis Tate, Aly Talley, Patrick Shaw, and William Davis in the 2012 workshop production of <i>The Poison Squad</i>.
May I have some more, please?: Travis Tate, Aly Talley, Patrick Shaw, and William Davis in the 2012 workshop production of The Poison Squad. (Courtesy of The Duplicates)

Applesauce. Borax. Soup. Borax. Turkey. A little borax. That doesn't sound like a Christmas menu to me, but it was business as usual for the 12 young tenants of Harvey Wiley's scientific boardinghouse. It was 1902, and this "poison squad" had selflessly volunteered to ingest chemicals for Wiley's government-sanctioned quest for federal food and drug regulations.

Or maybe, as some Austin theatremakers may suggest at Fusebox, these dudes just wanted the free food.

The Poison Squad marks the sixth collaboration of the Duplicates, the irreverent corps of UT Theatre & Dance MFAs who resurrected Elvis at last year's Fusebox, cradled the Dionne quintuplets at 2011's Cohen New Works Festival, and memorialized 9/11 on its 10th anniversary. Those productions, says script and sound designer Tom Horan, were created in a "shotgun process. We knew what we wanted to do, spent a few months talking about it, jumped into rehearsal, and put it on."

This show is different. After mounting a workshop production last November, the quintet has taken its sweet time nipping and tucking. "Diractor" Courtney Sale says they "wanted to shed some of the noise" from their rowdy pieces and hone in on the "simple story of those men eating together and not knowing what they were putting in their bodies." That doesn't mean the group is discarding their tradition of extravagant design and intricate scripts. No one disclosed specifics, but cast member Harrison Harvey alluded slyly, "If you've seen it before, you'll be surprised. If you've never seen it, you'll be really surprised."

The Poison Squad marks another shift, since three of the Dupes have left Austin; scenic designer Rowan Doyle and lighting designer Trey Gibson (who recently got hitched) relocated to Brooklyn, and lighting designer Cheng Wei Teng is in Taiwan. The group usually writes and designs simultaneously, with each member contributing to every part of the process in "the most democratic way possible," says Doyle, but this time design came last and from afar. Sale, who will head out soon to become the associate artistic director at Indiana Repertory Theatre, insists that the Dupes will live on. "We all feel compelled to continue the collaboration as best we can. The conversation I have with the Duplicates: That's the fucking workout."

Horan agrees. "I think of us as a band. We're an itinerant national company." Sale clarifies: "Homeless." Horan laughs and fires back, "Itinerant is a nice word for homeless. But it's important that we were birthed in Austin. Fusebox has been very supportive and took some risks on us as a theatre company that was still at UT at the time." The Rude Mechs, too, says Sale, are "mentors in a big way. They come up so much when we are working, as reference points and departure points."

Never fear, Austin: The Duplicates will be back. A new show, Expo 2054, about holding a final world's fair in the face of imminent apocalypse, is in the works. Until then, you have three chances to catch The Poison Squad. I guarantee it'll make a duplicate out of you.

The Poison Squad runs Saturday, April 27, 1pm & 5pm; and Sunday, April 28, 6pm, at the Off Center, 2211 Hidalgo.

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The Duplicates, Austin theatre, Fusebox Festival, Tom Horan, Courtney Sale

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