Monday, August 1, 2011

The Mechanicals Theatre Group's Out Of My Head

Emily Clark (center) with Jeni Incontro and
Saro Badalian. Photos by Matthew Murphy

If you do a Google search asking, “How many thoughts do we have in a day” you’ll find that, while there is no consensus, the number ranges anywhere from 12,000 – 70,000. Thousands! What a staggering thought. With that kind of traffic moving at the speed of light through our brain receptors, it’s a wonder any of us stay sane at all.

In Ryan Scott Oliver’s Out Of My Head, currently playing at Pico Playhouse, five young people wrestle with their own somewhat dysfunctional, often neurotic, thoughts racing repeatedly through their heads. By the time we meet them, the chaos has undermined their ability to function day to day, so they come seeking relief from their therapist (Jeni Incontro), a pleasant but firm sounding board who helps them attempt to tame the noise. That’s the jumping off place for this heady collaboration between Oliver and The Mechanicals Theatre Group.

Anna Bowen
The rock solid cast includes Anna Bowen as an artist who wants to fly out of her head and onto paper but doubts her talent because of her mother’s pessimism, and Robyn Clark as a hypochondriac who thinks she’s caught every affliction known to man, from aids to cancer to T.B. to bird flu all while fearing she’ll never find a man to put up with her drama.

Robyn Clark

Gary Brintz may look like any other man but inside is actually a manic self-professed love killer desperate to find the perfect girl, as long as she is smarter, funnier and better looking than he is. Emily Clark just wants to find a man to date who isn’t gay, like all of her previous boyfriends, and Saro Badalian is in such turmoil over his sexuality that his own mother gives him a copy of the Kama Sutra. (That’ll send you into therapy for sure!)

Gary Brintz

It’s a quirky bunch, yet they are oddly relatable characters, and it is into these minds that Ryan Scott Oliver burrows, creating a kind of organized cacophony that captures the voices screaming inside their heads and makes music out of them. Fragments of thought match musical moments that stutter and break, rush forward, and spin in an entirely new direction as they pass. The energy of music and lyrics is at times subtly frenetic, and at others open and spacious. It is an audacious approach to musical storytelling and exciting to watch as it unfolds in this newly revised 75-minute song cycle.

Kirsten Guenther’s book includes revealing monologues that further express, with humor and pain, the voices that live within the characters. By the end of the night, we see how they have changed, and even have a glimpse of where they may be going in the future as they continue the self-discovery process.

Director Jacob Harvey and musical director Ryan Cantwell pull all the pieces of this personality puzzle together beautifully, making each moment the fullest expression of itself possible. The band offstage is made up of Cantwell on piano and Brian Boyce on drums who sound great, but the balance was off opening night and it was hard to hear the words when the singers were singing quietly. That’s unfortunate because a revelation can come at any time in an RSO song and you don’t want to miss any of them.

Even so, the intermission-less evening passed far too quickly for me – and my guest, James, Twitter follower # 1000! – agreed that we had seen something very special.

The show runs through August 21, 2001 at Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064. Click here for tickets and more information.

Out Of My Head is a part of the Fourth Annual Festival of New American Musicals.

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