Flying Snakes in 3-D!!!
nytheatre.com review by Michael Mraz
January 19, 2012
With the combination of a still-reeling economy and a rapidly shortening attention span of the American public, the idea has begun to surface that theater is a dying art-form. Film and TV have the ability to tell a much more specific, nuanced story as techniques advance, and it tends to be cheaper for the people to consume. Tough financial times have also made it difficult for young and, essentially, poor indie theater artists to continue producing their work. While wrestling with these issues, Everywhere Theatre Group has created Flying Snakes in 3-D!!!, now playing at the Brick. Flying Snakes in 3-D!!! is a zany, over-the-top attempt to basically recreate the experience of a horror B-movie on stage, while tying in some kind of message about the state of theater today and why poor artists still strive to make it work. However, these two goals do not mesh together seamlessly. Instead, they work at cross purposes, leaving the narrative and flow of Flying Snakes feeling very messy and unfocused.
The show's main stumbling block is that it doesn't seem to know what it wants to be in many different respects. It feels like the Group did not trust that its wacky parody centerpiece could actually summon enough heart to carry a theater piece on its own merit, so they needed to anchor it with a serious theater message. However, the parody holds the most potential of anything in the script.
Flying Snakes in 3-D!!!, the parody, unleashes a race of mutant, venomous flying snakes on the world, when a test serum developed by zany scientists Inis Goodheart and Frank Sheckles infects a breed of lab snakes. When the snakes start biting their way through the human race, Governor Rosa Gomez assembles a quirky super team of a pregnant mutant telepath, a basketball superstar, and a horse-killing cowboy to battle the threat. The premise is fun and hilarious, and has great bits. They do the smart thing by winking at the audience throughout, conceding that they are in on the joke and are not taking this too seriously. There is a funny opening credits sequence to Journey's "Separate Ways" that features video footage and "snakes" (the actors) doing a dance number. There is complementary video footage throughout (created by video director, Chase Voorhees) which adds interesting visual elements throughout.
However, clocking in at just around an hour, the parody seems half-baked. It pokes fun at elements of large-scale action flicks, the horror genre, and at times even feels like it's taking some cues from the Snakes on a Plane, Samuel L. Jackson's "cult classic" (I use that term loosely), but it never chooses or fully commits to any of them. It uses the action movie formula of a colorful, rag-tag bunch that bands together against all odds to save the world but never gives them any personal stake in the action (something that even the most outlandish action flicks know to do). Whereas the key to successful parody is a deep understanding, commitment, and even love of the original form, Flying Snakes' lack of focus in this area hurts the cohesiveness of the parody. Its big climax and final battle seem to stop short and never resolve. However, this seemed to be a conscious choice by the developers. They seem to be making the point that you can't compete with the form of film on stage and there's no way to duplicate what they can do with scale and budget. In essence: they seem to choose to fail. This seems an odd choice since parody and theatrical staging has been successful. In fact, The Brick, the very theater where the show is performed, has a long history of zany work that plays with translating different forms to stage (e.g., film, TV, comic books) and has been extremely adept at doing so.
This" intentional failure" though plays into the show's other theme of theater in today's society, but this too is delivered in a confusing way. The show seems to end on a triumphant note, as the actors step outside their characters and reaffirm their belief in doing theater, despite all of the pitfalls and hurdles, but it's unclear why they make this choice. They accept their inability to stage an epic movie on stage or compete with film, embrace the lack of money in the indie theater world, and lament the stress of continually mounting shows, but then just choose to go on. It seems that the central message is "well there's no way we can stay afloat with no money or resources and the art-form is dead, but, what the hell! Let's do it anyway!"
The irony is that the most affecting and interesting artistic moments of the piece are the film pieces being projected on the backdrop screen and the action movie soundtracks that underscore it. The ensemble does a nice job of juggling their crazy, cartoonish characters, but it becomes hard for performances to cut through the hyperactive jumpiness of focus. One of the final lines comes from the board operator in the tech booth, as the characters are delivering their feelings on the state of theater (and I'm paraphrasing): "Should we really be dragging the audience on our tangents about theater or should we just entertain them?" I can't help but think that Flying Snakes in 3-D!!! could be a real blast if they just stuck to entertaining.