The Brick Theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is hosting The Comic Book Theater Festival, and I was able to check out a few pieces of cross-media work!
This is the second festival The Brick has hosted, and it features a variety of plays, from superhero riffs to crime drama, and re-imagined Ninja Turtles to a biography of Jack “King” Kirby. The Festival has some offerings from established comics writers including Fred van Lente and Dean Haspiel, as well as newer voices.
I had the opportunity to see three of the shows this weekend, and found the comics-meets-theater format created a great conversation.
Last week saw readings from Masterpiece Comics, R. Sikoryak’s hilarious mash-up of classic literature and classic comics. Sikoryak himself introduced the pieces and performed several roles, while other parts were taken by Ryan Andes, Hope Cartelli, M. Sweeney Lawless, and Steven Rattazzi, whose dulcet tones are best known as The Venture Bros’ Dr. Orpheus. The voice acting was funny and nuanced, with everyone playing multiple roles in multiple incongruous accents. (I also want to give a special notice to R. Sikoryak’s super-sweet Masterpiece Theater smoking jacket.) Several of the pieces from the show are included in his first Masterpiece Comics book, including “Blonde Eve” (Genesis meets Blondie) “Little Dori in Slumberland” (Picture of Dorian Gray plus Little Nemo), and the ambitious “Adventures of Ras Kol” (The Dark Knight faces Crime and Punishment). One of the newer pieces, which quickly became my favorite of the show, featured a combination of the Marquis de Sade’s Justine and Wonder Woman (which just gets funnier the more you know about the origins of Wonder Woman) and will hopefully be included in Masterpiece Comics’ sequel.
On Sunday I saw “White Space” by Brett Ackerman, a meta piece on plot device characters trying to find their purpose (and trying to get Jerry the comic shop owner to read the issue more often) so they can break out of their panels. The show is highly abstract, with some adorable references to Grant Morrison’s Animal Man. The show is really an existential crisis in comics form, and it works pretty well. The three main actors (Nicola McEldowney, Devin Doyle, and Tom Livingston) have to handle a lot of dialogue, much of it facing directly into the audience, with few props rely on, while most of the action takes place in the audience’s imagination. All three do a fantastic job, and create full arcs over the course of 30 minutes. The only off note, for me at least, was running Hootie and the Blowfish gag that didn’t quite land. Otherwise it was a wonderfully thoughtful work that played with the unique structure and cultural weight of comics to ask some profound questions about the search for meaning.
“RetControversy” (by Tor.com contributor and all-around swell person Natalie Zutter) is a hilarious and touching take on retcons in general and the Batgirl/Oracle reboot in particular. Stinger assisted The Big Guy until an encounter with The Spook left her partially paralyzed. Then, she relied on her wits to become Echo, a hacker with a photographic memory. That is, until the dreaded retcon that allows a younger version of Stinger to recover from her wounds, and return to the streets to fight crime. But Echo isn’t about to take that lying down: the play opens on Stinger, bound to a chair by her predecessor, and forced to listen as Echo mounts a strong argument for her own cerebral approach to superherodom. What does Stinger have to offer legions of fans, apart from her tighter spandex and ability to leap across rooftops? How can that be superior to Echo’s genius? Can the Stingers and Echoes of the world work together? Zutter takes these questions seriously, exploring different aspects of the retcon, without coming down hard on anyone’s side, and also allows plenty of room for humor.
You still have two more chances to see RetControversy on Tuesday, June 24th and Saturday, June 28th. Plus, the Brick’s Comic Book Theater Festival continues until June 29th, with shows including Fred van Lente’s “King Kirby” and Dean Haspiel’s “Switch to Kill.” You can check out their full schedule here!