Thursday, August 18, 2005

After the Falderal

What do cigarettes and “nunzilla” (a wind-up nun who walks around with fire shooting out of her mouth) have in common? They are the thread that holds together the relationship of Billy and Jane through the years, from high school into adulthood.

Billy (Sam Tanng) and Jane (Dana Snyder) are the characters in a two person piece called “After the Falderal,” (created by Tanng and Snyder) the third offering by the Fat Cow Theater Festival at The California Stage in Sacramento.

Is “After the Falderal” a play? a dance? a multi-media piece? experimental theater? a drama? a comedy?

Yes to all questions. This delightful one hour, two act piece begins as a play, then becomes a dance, and then includes some other media as a sort of a set dressing.

While it has no actual plot, it does follow the couple from high school through their on-again, off-again relationship, all held together by compulsive smoking and the role “Nunzilla” plays in that bad habit, and in their relationship itself.

There are some delightful moments, particularly Billy’s description of college life in Act 2, with the assistance of some props, which had the audience giggling.

Ironically, as one enters the theater, there is a sign, prominently displayed over the door, which says “No Smoking.” It is ironic, since the first thing the characters do as the lights come up is to light up (herbal) cigarettes and fill the air with smoke. They continue to smoke, both literally and figuratively, throughout the piece, since the theme of smoking is what binds them together. The depiction of chain smoking in Act 2 is particularly funny.

Tanng and Snyder are strong, experienced performers who can tell a story as well with body language as they can with words. Snyder’s scene about breaking up with Billy is very effective, without saying a thing.

A scene in a museum is both funny and touching, as Billy attempts to help Jane to understand a piece of artwork they are viewing.

As with all three works of this theater festival, the stars are also the manual labor, and so Snyder was at the door selling tickets and refreshments in a nice business suit before changing into her flimsy costume for the play. At intermission, both Tanng and Snyder donned the black ensemble of a stage crew (black pants, black shirts, black hats) to sweep up the stage and rearrange the set, before changing back into their character costumes (Tanng has cornered the market on colored bib overalls). One of them probably would have run the lights too, if they could have done it without waking through the audience to get to the light booth.

“After the falderal, nothing is quite the same again,” says Jane, in a reflective moment, a statement that rings true for all of us.

There are three more performances of After the Falderal, the 20th, 21st and 26th, playing in rotation with “American Chippendale” and “James McKinley.”

This has been an ambitious and promising start for this fledgling theater festival, and one hopes to see more from the company next summer.