The North Plan

Street Corner Arts' dark comedy stumbles on its way to the revolution, but the show is worth seeing

Backwater revolution: Indigo Rael as Tanya
Backwater revolution: Indigo Rael as Tanya (Photo courtesy of Street Corner Arts)

The North Plan

Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd, 512/479-7529
Through Dec. 21
Running time: 2 hr., 5 min.

It's a Tarantino tactic: Hypnotize your audience into a state of blissful ignorance by making them laugh, gain their trust, and then give them an uppercut to the face with something so violent and ugly they are left absolutely dazed. Playwright Jason Wells employs this device of disorienting juxtaposition in Street Corner Arts' The North Plan with varying degrees of success.

The stage in Act One is dominated by two metal cages: a couple of jail cells in Lodus, Mo., where the unlikeliest of kindred spirits have a meeting of the minds as they bond over their shared captivity. How like the dueling forces of yellow journalism and serious political discourse are these two characters as they compete for the attention of their captors. Guess which one has the harder time being heard, and guess which one survives.

Although the laughs are not in short supply here, we generally fail to care for this play's main characters. Tanya, the potty-mouthed young trailer park mom in her acid-washed hip-huggers is, of course, an easy target, but in the People's Republic of Austin we expect to sympathize with this story's "hero," Carlton Berg, the midlevel state department hack who we come to believe aspires to Snowden-esque feats of daring. Yet what does he really stand for, aside from privacy and civil liberties at their most vague?

Still, the show is perfectly cast, with Indigo Rael as the backwater babe-cum-revolutionary Tanya, and the white-mustachioed Garry Peters as Chief Swenson, the very picture of a tiny-town sheriff. Kristen Bennett imbues her role as the good girl admin, Shonda-From-the-Hood, with just the right amount of sweetness and light. Her turn at slapstick is right on the money.

Despite the fact that nearly everyone here stumbles over their lines, and some scenes – such as Tanya's opening monologue – are overlong, audience members are clearly engaged and responsive, with many members standing to show their appreciation at the show's dramatic denouement.

Imperfect? Yes, but Street Corner Arts debuted its first show just two years ago. The company is still in its relative infancy, and based on the positive reception of their work, any demands put on the audience by adapting to pacing challenges are worth the extra effort. Maybe this is in-your-face theatre, and "maybe it just looks like the revolution." Either way, it's live entertainment, and as Tanya will tell you, "TV is bullshit."

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The North Plan, Austin theatre, Street Corner Arts, Jason Wells, Indigo Rael, Garry Peters, Kristen Bennett

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