There are many ways in which to wait in Purgatory. And Renegade Theatre Experiment’s “Imperial Fizz” certainly shows a most entertaining option.
Highballs are flowing fast and furious in an existential paradise, where there is plenty of faux-intelligent conversation between Man (Peter Canavese) and Woman (Katie Vroom). There are talks of ancient Greece, high society, the great composer, humorously pronounced as “Choppin” and Latin America with all that speaking of Spanish. Yet, in the midst of entertaining conversation, we hear static on the radio, along with a literal, yet metaphoric closing on the walls. Fear creeps in, smiles say bye-bye, the static finally ends, nerves calm, and the drinks become colder than ever. What a life.
Who knows how long these two have been trapped in this same situation. The entire play feels very Noel Coward-ish – the drinks, the witty banter, the calm demeanor in a tense situation. Yet, at the same time the play seems inspired by Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” – characters wait and wait and wait in vain, while nothing ever seems to happen. And just when it could only get worse, a fresh batch of ice appears and new conversation is discovered.
“Imperial Fizz” runs for a crisp 80 minutes with no interruption. The strength of the production is its unity, with three directors (Laura Long, Jacquelyn Montellato and artistic director Sean C. Murphy) handling the staging of Brian Parks’ quirky and odd play. There is static on the radio, static conversation, lots of straight staging lines, and odd segues of the characters singing songs at strange times.
Both Canavese and Vroom handled their roles with a nice dignity, and found many moments where their range was solid. Vroom captured the pedantic spirit of Woman, quite pleased with herself for mentioning the brilliance of Sophocles, yet scolding Man for his hoity-toity usage of Thebes, the city where Sophocles’ tragic hero Oedipus ruled. Much of their dialogue felt like the 1920’s version of the movie “Pitch Perfect” and their famed “riff-off.” For certain, this is a play that would make a wordsmith giddy. For example, Parks’ excellent turn-of-phrase comes up with brilliant moments for Man to tell Woman her singing voice leaves much to be desired. Or put another way, “It’s a pity no one’s invented the notes you use.” Certainly, Canavese has a wonderful grasp on pretentious dignity, which informed Man nicely and effectively.
While the play has plenty of flash and panache, where the play truly lacks is its depth. Certainly, there is lots to like, but for the play to truly take off, there certainly needs to be much more substance. The motivations of the characters are not always clear, and it is a play that an audience can either fully appreciate or scratch their head at in puzzlement. In order to buy in further, we don’t necessarily need to like the characters, but we certainly should care about their arc. And while there were moments where their humanity entered into our souls in the form of things like a gentle, beautiful dance, these were not always at the forefront.
“Imperial Fizz” is a bold choice for the Renegades, who are never shy to bring forth stories that are difficult to find elsewhere. In this case, the substance may be lacking, but the style is certainly grand.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Renegade Theatre Experiment presents “Imperial Fizz”
Written by Brian Parks
Directed by Laura Long, Jacquelyn Montellato and Sean C. Murphy
Through Feb. 23rd
The word: Plenty of flash, yet not enough fizz in this odd story of waiting
Stars: Three out of four
Historic Hoover Theatre
1635 Park Avenue
San Jose, CA 95126
Tickets range from $12.50 to $27.50
For tickets, call (408) 493-0783 or visit www.renegadetheatre.com