San Francisco’s Department of Badassery finds humor in ‘Evil’

William Webster (Justin Liszanckie) is kidnapped by Hayes (Daria Johnson) and Kavanagh (Eric Reid) after creating a revolutionary new search engine in the play
William Webster (Justin Liszanckie) is kidnapped by Hayes (Daria Johnson) and Kavanaugh (Eric Reid) after creating a revolutionary new search engine in the play “Don’t be Evil” in San Francisco. (Department of Badassery photo)

The Department of Badassery in San Francisco is producing a play, a debut for their company, and a world premiere at that. It’s about technology. It’s also about torture. Its flyers feature a person sitting on a chair with a Stanford t-shirt and an American flag on his head. The play takes on a pretty popular search engine. The main character is even kidnapped and interrogated for questioning two inspectors.

And if you couldn’t tell by that description, it’s a comedy.

In what is described by the creators as “The Office meets Guantanamo Bay,” “Don’t Be Evil” is currently running at PianoFight in San Francisco. The dark comedy explores the absurdity of the country’s consumption of terror and how we get our information in the digital, and not so private, age.

Director and Badassery co-founder Gabriel Montoya is positively giddy about this debut for the fledgling company, a play that looks at the searing world of technology through the lens of humor, written by prolific Bay Area theatre artist Bennett Fisher.

“We deal with the subject matter in the play in a really funny way,” said Montoya, himself a boxing journalist who has become well known for his investigative reports on the sport’s issues with performance-enhancing drugs, or PED’s. “It handles a really delicate subject matter with humor and puts a mirror up to us.”

Fisher’s play was written in 2009, which was pre-Edward Snowden and a year before the George W. Bush administration torture report was published. And even though there has been six years since the plays genesis to now, there is still so much that makes the play feel as relevant and timely as ever.

“It really felt like the right time to produce this show,” said Robin Fontaine, the show’s producer, co-founder of the company and Montoya’s wife. “Everything in the play is happening now, and is relevant to things that are happening now.”

Much of Montoya’s fascination with the subject comes from the country’s apathy towards the torture report, acknowledging that society seemed more collectively angry at the lies of Lance Armstrong, a professional bike rider. When President Barack Obama was elected, an election that signaled change and progress, Montoya still found himself frustrated at what that change and progress meant.

“With Obama being elected, it was a huge step forward, a person of color now in power,” said Montoya. “The campaign was all about change and hope, and the country was in such a dark place, and we needed to hear it. But hope became ironic and we doubled down on all those prior policies.”

Even though there is pain in the divisiveness that currently envelops the country, Montoya remains optimistic.

“The play has such a positive message and shines a light, which is better than not doing anything. I needed to say something like this, but Bennett said it so beautifully.”

“It’s great to introduce the play to the world, because it is really serving Bennett’s vision,” said Fontaine.

Back in March of this year, Fontaine and Montoya set up a staged reading of the play to gauge reaction, with one eye on possibly mounting a full production. While the material can be deemed by some as controversial, that is not really what concerned them. After all, Montoya and Fontaine both think about doing theatre based on what they want to see, not necessarily about what an audiences particular sensibilities are.

Yet, one audience member at that reading was a bit baffled as to why it was a comedy, and suggested that maybe it shouldn’t be. For Montoya, finding the humor in such darkness is exactly why it should be a comedy.

“No matter how long you work on something, no matter how difficult the material is, in terms of pacing, you are three minutes away from the whole piece being a drama,” said Montoya. “If it’s drama, it doesn’t work.

“It has to be that Showtime Lakers up tempo pace.”

For Fontaine, the humor comes from the surreal ridiculousness of the situations the characters find themselves in.

“These are ordinary people trying to act normal in the face of extremely absurd circumstances,” said Fontaine.

Montoya’s quest for the truth has driven so much of not only his theatrical pursuits, but also his boxing coverage. And while what he ultimately hopes for is a cleaner sport and a more peaceful society, this play is also a reflection of something more he wishes for.

“I have optimism,” said Montoya. “I have never-ending hope. To me that’s what this play is about, empathy and hope.”

Both Montoya and Fontaine have been encouraged by the results so far, with a lot of positive reaction to the show, and solid reviews thus far. And while Fontaine may not be the boxing scribe in the relationship, she certainly sees the parallel between the theatre and the squared circle.

“The stage is a boxing ring,” said Fontaine. “Theatre has to be as exciting as boxing. You have to give your audience a punch to the gut.”

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

The Department of Badassery presents “Don’t Be Evil”
Written by Bennett Fisher
Directed by Gabriel Montoya
Through Oct. 3rd
Piano Fight Theatre
144 Taylor Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
Tickets are $28
For tickets, visit www.pianofight.com
Online: www.departmentofbadassery.com

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