nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 26, 2006
It's very unusual for a show's title to serve perfectly as a capsule summary of my review, but in this case it seems exactly appropriate. This new multimedia show from the indomitable, surprising, and supremely talented "Bubi" Escudero is a trip and a half, in more ways than one. Bubi's imagination, vision, and humanity inform every moment of what @ trip! And yet here, more than in previous productions created by this actor-director-playwright-designer, the mark of many collaborators is enormously in evidence. It's an intriguing work of theatre.
The show is in two parts, more or less. It begins in a sci-fi future, in a distant galaxy, in a TV studio where a cloned half-human/half-lizard media star named Chameleon Madagascar (aka Robotic Humanoid) is taping a full slate of entertainment programs for some unspecified interplanetary audience. His second banana is called Valiant BI, perhaps because he's as likely to turn up in drag as not. (Madagascar dons drag at one point as well, when he pairs up with Valiant for a weird and wonderful off-kilter sketch in which they play "Starlets.") Madagascar also has a girl-Friday named "True," and it's when she starts to get enamored of Dr. Destino's rival virtual TV franchise that things start to go wrong for our heroes. (There's also an unnamed character who seems to want to star in her own TV show; she turns up in other guises later in the story.)
The second "act" finds Madagascar and Valiant traveling backwards in time to Earth in 2006 to try to rescue True, who has been spirited here thanks to the machinations of soulless Dr. Destino and the evil Mrs. Mind. They find a planet dominated by Money, and as they negotiate ways to survive they come under the spell of greed themselves. This portion of the play turns allegorical—without sacrificing its funky non-sequitur quality—as Madagascar is crowned "King Ego" and Valiant his consort, "Barbie Dollar."
This being a show by Bubi, there's an optimistic and hopeful finish.
Now, the foregoing synopsis can't possibly do what @ trip! justice. Bubi's theatrical creations defy description with their non-linear, shifting narratives and their imaginative design ideas. Here we're treated to a parade of projected backgrounds created by the artist James Ewan; astonishing masks; big mesh butterfly wings that Madagascar and Valiant don from time to time; plentiful video clips featuring an array of performing artists doing strange and/or comical things (kudos particularly to Julio Soler as the ever-so-suave Dr. Destino and Josh Sherman in a delicious cameo as a very very rich guy); and nonstop sound and music, including a number of rap duets that I'll just bet owe a great deal of their creation to the two young actors who star in this show, Andy Chmelko and Bryce Gill.
Chmelko and Gill (Madagascar and Valiant) work together with the assured timing and chemistry of a great comedy team, and they dominate the proceedings with lively performances that suggest the two of them are having as good a time as we are as they morph from Elvis impersonators to girlish movie stars to scary heartless Republican-types. Rounding out the cast are Olivia Callender, who plays True and has a couple of opportunities to demonstrate her impressive singing prowess; and James David Jackson, whose contributions are ample but must not be disclosed, lest an important surprise be ruined.
And then there's Bubi herself, performing here less that we're used to from previous work, yet always weaving a jolting magical spell whenever she's on stage. Most of the time she's wearing an unforgettable snout-nosed blank mask, the "face" of a mystical character called The Gypsy Moon, and she's more expressive behind it than most actors are without any mask at all.
what @ trip! exemplifies what I love about the kind of theatre that Bubi creates: it's imaginative, it's gutsy, and it's utterly true to itself. There are no rules in a show like this, save to be ready to embrace whatever comes before you. Such courageous art is not so common these days, and has much to teach its audience and, I venture to guess, its performers as well.