OMG! GARAGE THEATRE’S ‘LOLPERA’ MAKES BRILLIANT LOLZ, SRSLYBy Greggory Moore
Internet. Serious business. And LOLcats, too, if we are to judge by the $30 million of venture capital generated by icanhascheezburger.com investors banking on the company’s continued success at being a clearinghouse for the dissemination of your stupid cat pictures made all the more ludicrous by the LOLspeak captions your online brethren adds to them. Like the one of that kitteh in front of the computer with the caption: “Internet. Serious Business.”
So what do you get when you go beyond making lolz and decide to take the whole memetic phenomenon and turn it into a full-blown, self-reflexive opera whose libretto is comprised of those very captions sung by the kittehs made human flesh and composed into a story producing not just meming for its own silly sake but the kind that has meaning, the kind that matters?
If you’re LN&AND (as creators Ellen Warkentine and Andrew Pedroza are sometimes known) and cast under the direction of Jessica Variz, an answer to that 66-word question can be communicated by just one: brilliance.
But there’s plenty more to say.
In the beginning, Ceiling Cat (played by Steve Sornbutnark) created teh Earths n stuffz, and can haz light, and light wuz. Now it’s a future that looks a lot like an exaggerated today, a time when the Internets is a series of tubes transmittin cats qua lolz. A serious business run by Serious Cat (Ashley Allen).
But there’s a shortage of cheezburger down here — a symbol for more than mere food, but not always as substantive (like much of what we consume, eh?) — and so LOLCAT Corp. sends its president, Astro Cat (Michael Burdge), into space to search for more. Or so they say. Meanwhile, the natives of LOLcity are getting restless, slowly stirred to action by Gutter Cat (Dinah Steward). But you know what they say about herding cats, particularly ones who spend all their time looking for happiness (or at least a kind of validation) on their iPhones and such. Internet, serious business.
Dreamer Cat (Pedroza) has dance skillz and big dreams (despite his little paws), and soon he lands a job at LOLCAT Corp. Little does he know these are the machinations of Basement Cat (Angel Correa), Ceiling Cat’s erstwhile BFF but now banished to teh bowels of hell and looking for a way to get out of the box. Which he does at the end of Act One. And then, as the kids say, it’s on.
Throw praise around and it pretty much all sticks to LOLPERA’s walls. Musically the cast comes right out of the gate with the killer leitmotifs “Ceiling Cat Is Watching You Masturbate” and “I’m In Yer,” which set the fast-paced tone for the multifaceted fun that constantly unfolds on Dicapria’s artfully simple dystopian set design (nicely lit by Yammy Swoot). Then Burdge gets big laughs during blast-off with his gentle commitment to the silly swagger; the Happy Cat/Precious Cat love harmonizing (by Allie Nelson/Sayaka Miyatani) might make your throat catch a bit in the midst of your chortles; and the extremely complex sequence of Dreamer Cat’s first day on the job simply fucking flies.
Act Two may not leap out of the blocks, but when it hits its stride, damn. When the Itteh Bitteh Kitteh Committeh comes to the rescue of their daddy, and when the legions of good and evil embark on their ninja training for the final battle, that is some true hilarity, but you almost hate to get caught up in laughter since being doubled over makes it harder to track the incredibly detailed twists and turns in the music and the accompanying blocking. Or is it the blocking that’s accompanied by the music? Both are so artfully constructed and perfectly enmeshed that you can’t track where one ends and the other begins. Kudos to Angela Lopez for her choreography, and to all of the cogs in this beautiful machine for firing together in perfect harmony.
If wishes were fishes, I would need only a puddle to hold the small fry on the downside. One of LOLPERA’s conceits is to project the LOLcat pics as simultaneously as possible with the sung captions. Though one of the truly brilliant and inspired aspects of the production, the nature of human information processing — particularly when we’re talking about simultaneously processing different types of information (here, the sung, the written and the imagistic)—means the audience is presented with certain challenges in taking it all in. There’s a question of timing that’s probably too technical to get into here (and which will probably improve during the run of the show—which is highly complex mechanism, after all). But there’s also a question of visual placement. Because the audience is lined up along the two long sides of the theater with the action taking place very close by all across a very horizontal space, we have to do a lot of head-swiveling to clock the LOLcat slides—which at times come very quickly—and get ourselves back on the performances, even brief moments of which we hate to miss because, as she did with Cannibal! The Musical, Variz has every damn person on stage working every damn moment. Were the set-up such that we could keep more of the proceedings within in a single sightline, the effect might be even greater, simply because we’d be able to take in more of the fabulousness at any one time. This is a greater issue in Act Two, when the setup dictates that, no matter where you’re sitting, every now and then you’re looking at someone’s back just when you don’t want to be.
That you might care about this has everything to do with how good these people are. Between the workshop and now, Pedroza told me he wasn’t sure if he’d be Dreamer Cat in the full production; I basically told him he was fucking nuts, because he was born to play this role, vocalizing and dancing with an exuberance that seems to come off with a clumsy thoughtlessness and yet is so note- and millimeter-perfect that the attention to detail can’t be missed. Correa, meanwhile, is such a goddamned dynamic presence that when he comes out of the litterbox of hell, you feel his having been unleashed, and that presence remains for the duration. Similarly do we feel Steward’s gritty struggles as Gutter Cat, her bluesy revolutionary warblings. Then there’s Allen, who from start to finish and every moment in between is a fucking force, be it vocally, kinetically, or even just the responses and faces she makes while in the background. And when Anthony Pedroza’s LOLrus recaps the story of what happened to his bukkit, well, that’s just some funny shit.
I was a bit surprised that in terms of costuming there is next to nothing intimating that these folks are cats. Of course we get it anyway, and no doubt full blown cat-costuming (à la Cats) would have been disastrous, but the scantiest nod in that direction — maybe just cat ears — might make the proceedings even funnier than they are, capitalizing fully on the fantastically ludicrous notion that those onscreen cats are living these fully anthropomorphic lives. Because when we do get such winks (such as a hilarious moments with balls of yarns and red-dot laser lights), they’re golden.
What didn’t surprise me was that several times I laughed to the point of crying, both from their bringing the funny and from the sheer joy of witnessing creation in the highest sense of the word. I’ve been covering this story from the start, so I knew what I was in for. And when after the show I found out from Warkentine that she had her perfect ending in place pretty much from the moment she started writing this masterpiece, it confirmed what I had already guessed. Because that’s how it tends to go with cases of true inspiration: revelation is part of the process. You work hard, but some things just fall into place.
LOLPERA THE GARAGE THEATRE • 251 E 7TH ST (JUST OFF LONG BEACH BLVD) • LONG BEACH 90813 • 562.433.8337 THEGARAGETHEATRE.ORG • THURS-SAT 8PM • $15-$18 (2 FOR 1 THURS), INCLUDING RISER SEATING NOT AVAILABLE ONLINE BUT AVAILABLE ON A FIRST-COME, FIRST-SERVED BASIS BEFORE SHOWTIME • THROUGH OCT 30