Sunday, May 21, 2017

New Millennium Theatre's "The Incredible Hank"

The New Millennium Theatre Company focuses on "new or non-traditional" plays with an eye towards bringing in new audiences; previous endeavors have included Tolkien/action movie mashup Old Hobbits Die Hard and recurring Christmas special Silent Night of the Living Dead, if that gives you any idea.

Their newest production is The Incredible Hank, a farcical super-hero tale written & directed by Alex B. Reynolds. Set in a super-hero saturated metropolis, it follows a file clerk (Mike Movido) with incredible strength who is drawn, against his will, into the world of super-crime and vigilante justice.

A fast, loud show with broad humor, The Incredible Hank had the audience erupting in laughter at every other line. Some quick thoughts below:

It took me a minute to adjust to the style of the play, since I didn't know going in that it's a straight farce (in the technical sense, not negative at all—a spoofy, broad, slightly absurd comedy). Once you embrace that, however, it's pretty enjoyable: stylized, over-the-top acting, lots of physical humor and bit gags. Superhero media is so omnipresent, and so frequently reworked with satirical angles, that it's difficult to guess what particular works inspired The Incredible Hank. If you think of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, The Tick, or perhaps things in the vein of  The Venture Brothers, you'll have a good idea how this works.

With one or two pauses, it runs at a breakneck speed the entire time, and if I had one complaint it's the unrelenting volume: the constant shouting completely matches both the style of the play and the the "everything is an intense exclamation" comic-book convention, but it overwhelmed me a bit at pointsit's a small theater with close seating.

The set is minimal but quite effective, and I was really taken with some of the unexpected extrasthe "MCU News" reporting sequences drew a lot of laughter, and there's a couple of puppet sequences that worked incredibly wellfunny in their own right, and also kind of cement the vaudevillian approach.

Also, I should mention the comic-book style illustrations by Tom Pleviak, which were delightfulused in the playbill, news segments, and credits.

The script takes advantage of our familiarity with this general kind of story, launching right into the gags without worrying too much about worldbuilding. It runs perhaps a bit too quickly over a few ideas (like the meta-gag about superheroes "needing to make $80 million in the first weekend", complete with a dig at Ed Norton's Hulk), but also gets some really good bits out of slight trope-bending. Villains and heroes alike being completely dismayed at Dr. Manticle's demise made for a great scene, for instance, since both the audience and the in-world castCarl/Texas Justice (Jordan Pettis)know that nemeses need each other, are a kind of work-marriage in these stories. We don't get to see much of that relationship between Hank and Flamelia (Jessica Rae Olsen), since we only get the first five minutesbut because of how we've seen the last five minutes of Alpine Lion/Dr. Manticle's (Chris Woolsey/Megan Gill) antagonism, we can fill in where it's going.

There's a few jokes poking at superhero-genre problems that work very wellMirageo (Derrick Ferguson) insisting he's not a sideckick, or Goon 1 (Chelsea DeBaise) making an anti-patriarchal point of "henchperson" instead of "henchman". There's barely a line in the play that doesn't aim for some kind of laugh, with heavy punning and pop-culture references throughout. While the crass language fits the energy, I thought the script was a bit needlessly vulgarswearing isn't a joke stand-in, and it seems like it could be toned down here without losing any substance. I did quite enjoy its use of unexpectedly-obscure references for surreal humor—Sir Edmund Hillary used as an insult, for instance, or Hank's landing compared to 2008 gold medalist Shawn Johnson.

Every character here requires character-acting, and the cast embraces it to the hilt. Chris Woolsey's Commissioner & Alpine Lion were particularly well-done, and Olsen made good use of the fact that Flamelia, while still a bit of a caricature, is the closest the play has to a voice of reason. Scott Myers plays Winterion & Slap Hannigan with a finely-honed hamminess, and Ferguon's Mirageo brings some pretty great physical humor (plus a bit or two of gymnastics) and a kind of put-upon expository heroism to the stage. It's a fun ensemble, although some scenes felt a bit uneven—Carl's character, through script or performance, looms much larger than Hank's plot in nearly every scene.

I'm really pleased and intrigued with these theatre companies bringing different kinds of works to the stage, and genre works, at thatthe House's Diamond Dogs and Otherworld's A Princess of Mars jump-starting Positron's theatrical attention earlier this year. New Millennium seems like it's doing a great job of exploring a different side of pop culture on stage, and we'll be looking to see what they do next. I can't overstate how much The Incredible Hank's audience was into this production: the laughter was nearly non-stop. The show is running through June 24th at the Royal George Theatre, and you can find out more about other New Millennium productions on their site.

Positron Chicago received press passes for this showing.

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