“If there’s one thing that keeps everyone content and lively,” we’re told in the Seattle-based performance art musical ensemble Collaborator’s SoCal transferee Extropia, now playing Sunday nights only at the versatile King King nightclub on Hollywood Blvd., “it’s community.”
Where are Frank Zappa and George Orwell when you need them? Or, more appropriately, since it’s said that all art is imitation, shouldn’t the creators at least acknowledge these guys as their inspiration?
As it did in the mind of that late-lamented genius Mr. Zappa, Extropia suggests a future world without music, a place where the motto is “Timeliness plus efficiency equals productivity.” Foster (Sam Littlefield) makes shoes on an assembly line at a starkly high-tech government-run factory known as R.U.1.B.4. His life is, as is the life of everyone else in this world where people greet each other with a Flash Gordon-like stiff-handed salute across the chest accompanied by the phrase “Good workday,” decidedly bland and completely colorless. Life goes on basically day by uneventful day with “everything in working order” until one day, while brushing his teeth, the cadenced patterns of the brush against his molars gives him a bit of a psychological woodie.
Still, there’s nothing new here in this bleak potential outlook on our surely doomed species that hasn’t been more innovatively envisioned when Zappa stuck Joe in his Garage observed by the Central Scrutinizer in his 1979 rock opera, or before him by Orwell in his frequently reinvented 1949 novel 1984, or before them both by Karel Capek with his sadly more obscure and less-frequently resurrected revolutionary Czech play R.U.R., a piece which scandalized the entire international community in 1921 and coined a new term for the world: robot.
But developed over the period of a year by the gifted artists of Collaborator, what sets Extropia apart from the others is the score, created by Gabriel Baron, Carrie Nutt, and amazing Michael McQuilken, a Seattle street performer Intiman Theatre’s former artistic director Bart Sher discovered busking on the streets of that city and smartly tapped to accompany his production of Nickel and Dimed at the Intiman and later here at the Taper in 2002. McQuilken built his unique soundscape for that production onstage and fresh each night, using found objects such as water jugs, paint cans, PVC pipes, and car parts—then he recorded those efforts live, elaborating on the riffs he’d just created throughout the evening’s performance. Magic.
In Extropia, saxophonist Steve Horist, musical director Mark Sparling and his assistant, pianist Miho Kajiwara, sit on the side of the stage establishing the brave new harmonically-infused world as Foster and his coworker Arial (Alexandra Fulton) discover the soul-affirming rhythms in hibernation around them, the trio of precision musicians doubling as foley artists to generate the music in everyday sounds such as birds chirping, rocks skipping over a pond, a straw sliding against a cup, and particularly in the machinery they utilize to create their perfectly futuristic shoes.
Directed by Kelleia Sheerin and cleverly adjusting to their dynamic Hollywood nightclub venue, again, this is a rocking reinvention of a decidedly overworked theme. Yet familiarity is made forgivable by adding the talents of McQuilken and his cohorts, whimsically futuristic rudimentary set pieces by Squared Design, and some sincere—if uneven—performances.
Littlefield and Fulton are charming together as the stunned but delighted discoverers, David Forseth and Brendan Wayne provide the most skilled and comfortable comedic performances as Foster’s shocked coworkers, but someone should tell Shannon Zeller as Bleak, the plant’s stridently by-the-book overseer, that no shouted projection is needed in a small club with a microphone strapped directly to your cheek. The amplified distortion Zeller creates, along with an indistinguishable faux Eastern Block accent, could make one begin to wonder if the quieter future world of Extropia wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Extropia plays through Apr. 18 at King King, 6555 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; for tickets, call 323.960.7779. Or visit www.kingkinghollywood.com