By Chris Berger
Theatrix, Monday February 28, 2022 7:30PM
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s BASED ON A TOTALLY TRUE STORY is the latest production from Theatrix and I was surprised I’d never heard of it. A play about a comicbook writer that breaks into the movie and TV screenwriting world is something I thought I would have heard of by now. So I was pleasantly surprised when I found out what the play was about and was looking forward to the production. I’ve seen some plays at Theatrix in the past and always had good experience. Philip Crawford, the Artistic Director, always does a great job with his students.
The basic story is a semi-autobiographical comedy/drama about twenty-something New York writer Ethan Keene. He is a comicbook writer in his day job, writing The Flash for DC Comics (a big book at DC), and a struggling playwright in his off-hours. Ethan’s life is turned upside down when a Hollywood producer comes calling and decides she wants to turn one of Ethan’s plays into a big-budget horror movie. There is a lot of back and forth drama trying to get his play turned into a film: endless rewrites prompted by suggestions and compromises from dozens of different Hollywood executives. During all this, Ethan struggles to be a loving and supportive partner to his new boyfriend Michael Sullivan, a reporter for a local paper and an aspiring novelist. Michael and Ethan can be really good together, but Ethan struggles with time management and really opening up to Michael. In the midst of all this, Ethan’s dad tells him that after almost 30 years of marriage he is leaving Ethan’s mom for another married woman. Also, can dad stay with Ethan and Michael awhile until he finds a new place?
The play moves along at a quick pace and is very funny and more lighthearted than maybe the description lets on. But it does move. Because this is Theatrix and the audience is on three sides, there is always some neat staging to their plays. They go very light on the set pieces for this production which really worked well with the fast pace of the story and how it jumps from place to place. There were only two or three stage hands and they moved everything so quickly for each scene you really didn’t notice them.
For me, the stand out in this production are the performances. Everyone across the board does a really great job. Zephyr Desa is the utility player in this production, playing three different roles, memorable and hilarious in all three. Bailey Wewel as Ethan’s DC Comics Flash editor Tyler was delightfully nerdy, spastic, and reminded me of pro-wrestling writer/personality Vince Russo in the way she spoke, bro! (In a good way!)
Caroline Friend plays the big Hollywood producer, Mary Ellen, and she steals the show. Aguirre-Sacasa gave this character some especially great lines. Caroline does a smashing job of making her outrageous and over-the-top Hollywood producer very funny, but also real and grounded. She totally commands every scene she is in and is just delightful.
Ethan’s Dad is played absolutely dad-tasticly by Michael Zavodny. He is lovable and awkward, but very understanding with his son and of course quite a bit like him. Michael does a really nice job conveying the struggle of a man coming through a failed marriage and failed affair and subsequently picking up the pieces.
Gage Boardman-Allgood plays Ethan and is the main character and driving force behind the whole story. He is in every scene and never leaves the stage. There are several points when he is the only character present, talking directly to the audience. Gage commands the space effortlessly and really does a stand-out job in this role. At this point I want to talk about Will Hayes as Michael, a very important character, as a big part of this play is their hot and cold relationship. Will gave a very thoughtful performance portraying such a kind, honest, and straightforward person. I would also like to commend both Will and Gage on portraying a realistic relationship that I can totally buy into. Obviously fake relationships in plays, movies, and TV is one of my pet peeves. It’s one of those situations in life that everyone knows what it looks like, because everyone has either been in a relationship or sees other people in relationships every day, and we can tell when it’s even a little bit fake. It’s more difficult to pull off than you would think – convincing an audience that you love this other character on stage with you. I think the relationship between Ethan and Michael that is central to this story was expertly done by both actors and I never doubted it for a minute. Excellent job!
Phillip Crawford has directed another excellent production with Based on a Totally True Story, loaded with wonderful performances, and staged very smartly for a fast moving show in their unique space. Excellent job by the stage and technical crew that kept this show moving right along and didn’t miss a beat!
I highly recommend this to anyone of PG-13 age or higher. The runtime is 2 hours with a 15 min intermission, but it feels shorter. Great fun and very well done!
If you go: Performances are Feb. 28-March 3 at 7:30 p.m. in the Lab Theatre, which is located on the third floor of the Temple Building. Tickets are $7 general admission and $5 students. Available online, or cash-only at the door.
Chris Berger is an actor that lives in Louisville, NE and has performed at theatres in Nebraska since 2015. Chris is a co-owner/co-founder/performer in The Jolly Rogers, a comedy singing pirate group that tours the country and has released several albums. Chris, along with his wife Sheri co-host a local podcast called The Platte River Bard that focuses on the local Nebraska theatre/arts scene.
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