“Extropia” at King King

King King




“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

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing. www.travismichaelholder.com