|Photo courtesy of The Alley Theater.
Written and Directed by Todd Zeigler
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2011, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
The Alley Theater had a big hit on their hands a couple of seasons ago with Point Break LIVE, a spoof of the dreadful Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze film that was more fun than it had any right to be. They are attempting to duplicate the success of that licensed show by creating their own original parody of another Reeves film, the somewhat more revered sci-fi opus The Matrix. The resulting production has some truly hilarious moments but is not quite as successful.
Part of the problem is that The Matrix LIVE tries too hard to emulate Point Break LIVE in nearly every way, starting with the structure of the production. Both shows feature the films’ directors as characters in the play (Katherine Bigelow for PBL, the Wachowski Brothers for TML), deciding to remake their film as a stage production and selecting an audience member* to play Keanu’s role. The humor is derived from trying to stage such expensive films on no budget at all, and (in the case of TML) on the increasingly flustered and infuriated cast and crew.
The Matrix LIVE makes the assumption that you are familiar with the story of The Matrix and its sequels (so if you are not, you may want to watch the trilogy before coming to the show). Most of the humor will go completely over the heads of the uninitiated, and sadly, a lot of the jokes and one-liners still land with an uncomfortable thud. But writer-director Todd Zeigler has assembled a strong cast of very limber comedic performers, and most of the physical comedy (which makes up the bulk of the humor) comes off very well and provided me with more than a few belly-laughs. I especially liked the way the cash-stripped production pulled off the famous “bullet time” scenes: cast members freeze in position while crew members in bright green T-shirts walk out and pick them up and mimic the slo-mo movements from the films. It’s as ridiculous and silly as it sounds, but still very funny.
The performances range from okay to really strong. I especially enjoyed Neleigh Olsen playing it pretty much straight in the iconic role of Trinity; she gives no nudges or winks to indicate she’s in a parody and that somehow makes her funnier. Kenn Parks similarly keeps it real as the godlike Morpheus, although his unfortunate bald-head wig gets enough laughs on its own. And Madeleine Dee is cute as a button as the perky Production Assistant, whose job it is to babysit the audience member filling in for Keanu Reeves.
Corey Music and Ben Unwin pretty much carry the show as the constantly feuding Wachowski Brothers, with Unwin especially getting a lot of laughs from his increasingly less ambiguous sexuality. (In reality, it is rumored that Larry Wachowski has transgendered into Lana Wachowski, and of course this type of show would never let THAT little reality nugget go unexploited.)
The show’s greatest asset, hands-down, is Tony Smith’s fight choreography. It manages to be complex and visually amazing while at the same time rapturously funny, spoofing some of the film’s most iconic moments. Very well done, and exhausting to watch.
The major drawback with the production, however, is its extreme length. At over three hours, it really tries the audience’s patience, and the concept really doesn’t carry the show for that long. The Alley has among its upcoming shows another parody, Star Wars: The Original Trilogy in Less Than 60 Minutes; if they can spoof the vastly superior original Star Wars trilogy in an hour, I can’t imagine why they felt the Matrix trilogy needed to run three times as long! The extreme over-length is unfortunately exacerbated by some ill-conceived jokes about how late it is getting, which only serve to remind the audience that, yes indeed, this show is too long.
Still, I would be doing the show a disservice if I didn’t admit to having a good time for most of the evening, and with a little editorial tightening (for example, the show’s never-ending ending could use a LOT of trimming) it could be another repeat performer for the Alley Theater.
Starring John Aurelius, Alan Canon, Elizabeth Cox, Madeleine Dee, Jeremy Dugan, Jeremy Gernert, Corey Music, Neleigh Olsen, Kenn Parks, Chris Petty, Ray Robinson, Tony Smith, and Ben Unwin.
The Matrix LIVE! [A Parody]
*SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read any further if you don’t want a mild spoiler!
I hesitate to put this paragraph in, but I can’t praise one of the show’s best features without giving away a secret (although it’s one you’d figure out pretty quickly anyway). The gimmick of selecting an audience member to play Keanu’s role is faked in The Matrix LIVE, allowing a very talented and hilarious (and uncredited) performance by Denny Grinar. He provides some of the best moments in the show as a bewildered audience member dragged into the show pretty much against his will and getting more and more into it as the show progresses. Really funny stuff.
December 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16 & 17, 2011. All shows at 7:30.
Tickets, Advance: $18 General Admission; Student, Senior, Military $16
Day of Show: $20 General Admission; Senior, Military: $18; Student: $10 with valid current student ID at the box office
Season ticket eligible * Group Rates available
1205 East Washington Street