Apocalyptic, strange and wonderfully entertaining, Lisa D'Amour's Hide Town, created with company members from Infernal Bridegroom Productions, is everything experimental theater should be. Thoughtful and funny, the one-act speeds across a futuristic landscape covered in snow and darkness. No matter that this is Hide Town, Texas -- all the sweltering heat and bright sunshine the Lone Star State is so famous for seems to have vanished. Memories and a lonely, rough-hewn bar in the middle of nowhere are all that appear to be left of that mythical world.
First we meet Olive (Charlesanne Rabensburg) and Swimming Otter (Troy Schulze), two lost souls sitting at a corner table in the dim lights of the bar. Olive is mid-story, speaking a little bit frantically about how things were or are -- it's all a mystery at this point. Swimming Otter doesn't say much; in fact, he doesn't even seem to be listening. Both appear to have fallen into their own private hells. Outside a tiny window, snowflakes fall. The chilly misery of the place is palpable.
After a while, other folks wander in. There's Texie (Tek Wilson) and Coonrad (Jeff Miller), an easygoing couple who like nothing better than small-talking with their neighbors. Miss Ivah (Tamarie Cooper), who roller-skates in wearing a tattered bridal gown, is a little bit strange. Later we discover that she went off to college once upon a time, long ago, and has forever remained the town intellect, complete with all the weirdness all those brains imply. There's a homespun bartender named Mads (Kyle Sturdivant) who just happens to be a ghost, and Olive's angry chauvinistic husband Bud (Charlie Scott), who wants to keep her locked up, literally, all the time. These are all fallen clichs from the sort of small-town Texas world that exists only on television. And soon enough we learn that Hide Town was indeed once featured on a reality television show that claimed an eagle-headed man for a star.
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If all this isn't spooky enough, there's also the terrifying implication that Tom Cruise was once president of the country -- before the apocalypse, that is. Now apparently, there is no more America.
And then there's the problem with the space aliens and the camels that once lived at the edge of town; they had something to do with the death of a girl some years back, a death that nobody seems to have gotten over. A quiet pall comes over the bar whenever her name is mentioned. Oh, and there are all those tics and stutters these people share. Especially disturbing is the fact that Coonrad keeps interrupting himself with another voice, as if he's got another self buried deep inside. And that self keeps talking about a boyfriend somewhere.
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On paper, all of this might sound like a silly mishmash of oddities that have been thrown together just for the sake of weirdness, but on stage, in the hands of IBP actors, an odd logic begins to emerge out of these disparate elements. This script plays to the company's strengths and brings out everything that Houstonians have grown to love about IBP. Energetic, smart and supremely quirky, the production is first and foremost fascinating. The mysteries, which start with the opening lines, slowly reveal themselves as each new character wanders into the bar.
Anthony Barilla's direction is confident and full of idiosyncratic timing. The odd pauses and unusual emphasis put on some of the lines often sound more like avant-garde music than ordinary speech, and in this story, such unusual line readings work. And though the small stage is often filled with characters, it never looks crowded or awkward. Barilla has found a funky grace in this unpredictable script.
His cast is also surefooted throughout. Miller's Coonrad makes a charming good old boy. Rabensburg is practically glowing as the small-town beauty, while Cooper's Miss Ivah is full of tender regrets. Schultz is surprisingly convincing as a sexy cowboy, and Wilson's Texie is motherly without being hackneyed.
All this adds up to an unusual, unpredictable story that manages to reveal its secrets even as it stays supremely strange.