Dark Comedy busts out reality TV
December 1, 2005
BEAVER CREEK – There are two types of people in this world: Those who love to watch reality TV and those who love to hate it.Curious Theatre’s “The Dead Guy” provokes all sorts of dialogue about reality TV and humanity in general, said director Chip Walton, no matter what kind of relationship one shares with the pop culture phenomenon.Curious Theatre is based in Denver, and “The Dead Guy” is a world premiere for the company that prides itself on creating “entertainment with intellect.” It shows at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the Breckenridge Theatre.
Written by playwright Eric Coble, “The Dead Guy” tells the story of regular sap Eldon Phelps (Todd Webster), who is selected to star in America’s next big reality TV show. He’s got one week to spend $1 million, and a camera crew documents every minute of it. Sounds great, right? But when the seven days are up, the American public chooses how Eldon will die – and so the countdown begins.”It’s such a play of the moment,” Walton said. “In terms of content – the whole reality TV madness – and also in terms of form. It’s structured more like a reality TV show than it is a traditional play.”As an audience member, you experience the story from different perspectives. There are actors on stage, and there are six large monitors on stage transmitting the reality TV show in its edited version, as if you were at home on the couch watching the program. A wireless cameraman goes around filming it live as it happens. There is a lot to absorb visually, Walton admits, but he wanted to duplicate the franticness of reality TV.
“You know when you see a reality TV show that they do their best to make everybody look really ridiculous,” Walton said. “What you see on the show is only the edited version, and that lack of context really changes the meaning. We show this juxtaposition of what really happens backstage with what you see on the monitor.”The close-up monitor shots pose a challenge to the stage actors. They have to adapt, either playing up or playing down their gestures and facial expressions.”When you’re on stage, you have to play to the back row,” said Jessica Austgen, who plays Eldon’s ex-girlfriend, Christy, who he is trying to woo back. “But when you’re being filmed and your face is being projected on these huge monitors, you have to find a happy medium. When you’re on the monitor, people can tell hammy Broadway comedy acting. You have to be a little more subtle.”
Austgen said the wireless cameraman has the hardest job in the production. He has to remember all of his lines, blocking and the specific shots for the reality TV show, she said. In some scenes, the audience is directed to look at the stage actors while in others those actors are blocked, forcing the audience to view the monitors.”It’s really clever the way Chip has set up the play,” Austgen said.Coble’s written other plays Curious Theatre has produced, including “Bright Ideas.” For “The Dead Guy,” Walton and Coble re-wrote his original ending to increase the impact of the message.”What’s most talked about is the ending,” Walton said. “It really catches people by surprise and provokes questions like, ‘What’s the value of human life?’ It doesn’t answer any questions, but there’s nowhere you can go to avoid dealing with those questions when you leave the theater.”