Attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder sufferers, rejoice: ADHD-friendly programming has managed to seep from our TVs into live theater with 28 Plays Later, a production aimed at easily distracted twentysomethings who are searching for cheap laughs at the expense of their dignity.
28 Plays Later is a series of original, comedic short skits written and acted by members of Long Beach’s Alive Theater, strewn together in an hourlong clusterfuck of confusion, cursing and costumes. To its credit, the production definitely isn’t conventional. The cast allows the audience to dictate which skits they want to see by ordering them off a menu. The resulting spectacle is certainly a deviation from your average night at South Coast Rep.
A fun time is the goal of the players, who frequently engage the crowd and encourage a vocal audience. But maybe if the amount of time spent focusing on interaction were redirected toward the quality of the actual production, glaring mistakes—such as the misspelling of three out of four items on a chalkboard used in one sketch—may have been avoided.
In order to cram the entire 28-skit session into their strict time frame, the cast is forced to rush haphazardly. Chuckles result more often from actor error than actual punch lines. Though maybe that’s the point; the group hurries so quickly from joke to joke that if you aren’t paying attention, you soon forget how badly so many of them flop. They are very self-congratulatory and completely unaware of the fact that what they were doing was the opposite of entertaining.
While not every skit is completely wretched, the production as a whole has no thread tying it together, no underlying social commentary, nada. The result is a mostly bad Saturday Night Live-esque attempt that leaves its audience desperately searching for substance.
Mostly, 28 Plays is a collection of visuals without context. There’s a lesbian make-out session; a skinny man dancing in an all-too-revealing woman’s bikini; an Asian dude in a crop top with a cardboard penis sticking out of his fly as he stumbles about, crying and holding a finger-gun to his head—all bad performance-art treasures you’ll take home with you in lieu of the laughter-induced bellyache Alive is clearly striving way too hard for. The entire production, in fact, just feels like a giant inside joke that only friends of the actors and production staff are privy to (and what the fuck does Steven Soderbergh have to do with a vacuum-cleaning robot, anyway?).
While the members of Alive Theater obviously have great energy, enthusiasm and a love of their craft, they’re still in the beginning stages developmentally, having just formed earlier this year. The troupe venue-hops around Long Beach, making theater with a mission of proving that the medium isn’t dead (though with many independently run theaters in OC and Long Beach, it would seem its members need to get out more). Unfortunately, if they wind up producing more work like 28 Plays Later, they’ll actually do more to hurt their cause than help it.
28 Plays Later at Koo’s Art Center, 530 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 508-1788; www.alivetheatre.org. Sun., 8 p.m.; matinee, Sept. 14, 4 p.m. Through Sept. 21. $10.