This month, DramaTech transforms its theater from an ordinary space into the colorful and unpredictable, yet frightening alternate universe, “Cartoon.” Written by Steve Yockey and directed by Melissa Foulger, the dark, comedic play transports viewers to a land of toys living under the reign of the cruel dictator, Esther. The land is plagued by monotony and restriction, until one day, Trouble, a brave toy, questions Esther’s rule and decides to steal the hammer, Esther’s source of power. Drenched in layers of sarcasm, irony and exaggeration, “Cartoon” calls audiences to examine the influences that the media, propaganda and other individuals have on the choices each person makes, as well as satirizes how quickly people are willing to turn on each other.
“Cartoon” takes important questions that each person should consider and compiles them into one twisted story line. The play has a strong message that is unfortunately clouded by overly exaggerated sarcasm that crosses the line from commenting on society to making weird references that seem out of place and distract from the important message they try to convey. Confusing subplots and character storylines detract from the theme of the play, make little to no sense and frequently feel randomly thrown into the story. Among the overused hyperbolic rants are attempts at humor; however, the dialogue is in no way funny.
Despite the poorly written plot, the actors deliver superb performances. Non-stop energy flows throughout the show, from the wacky opening number to the moment the lights dim. Each actor captures the essence of each bizarre cartoon character. While the script is a disappointment, each actor commits fully to each outlandish scenario.
Kevin Qian makes the audience feel Trouble’s desperate desire for freedom with his plucky outlook on how change could be possible. Qian catches the audience’s attention as he darts on and off the stage from different angles, making each viewer’s eyes dance across the elaborately designed set. The set resembles an alternate universe of toys but leaves the feeling of being trapped in a nightmare.
Ryan Evans plays Winston Puppet, a ventriloquist dummy longing to be set free from the ropes that bind him in place. Evans effectively translates his character’s longing for freedom and then hesitance to be independent when released from the ropes.
Some characters are toys who have no voice. For example, William Penniman plays Suitor, a toy who cannot speak yet tries without luck to capture the affection of the Damsel. Penniman’s talented performance conveys the strong emotions of his character using only exaggerated and clever gestures, without even uttering a single word.
The actors certainly harness the element of surprise. Gasps and shrieks arise from the crowd as the actors’ unexpected and abrupt actions come out of nowhere. A word of warning: viewers are advised not to sit in the front if they are afraid to get splattered with blood … make that lots of blood.
An interesting and refreshing aspect of “Cartoon” is how the actors incorporate the audience into the show. For this particular show, the actors walked up to and through the audience, and one person in the audience was even taken onto the stage, only for the rest of the audience to soon find that he was in fact a member of the cast seated in the audience. This strategic employment of members of the cast leads one to believe that the people laughing in the seats are also part of the cast and planted there because there is no way the few people laughing could really find the script funny.
The stage setup is a fresh departure from more traditional setups. DramaTech’s theatre has the audience wrapped around the stage from three sides, creating an artsy vibe that the audience can feel. With the actors traveling from side to side, all angles of the stage are incorporated, making each person’s experience different depending on where you are sitting and able to catch the actors’ individual and original gestures.
Additionally, DramaTech has a talented crew that makes avid use of lighting features. The lights add to the performance, shining from all angles, but at times they shine brightly into the viewer’s eyes. The sound effects are equally impressive, helping to set the tone of the performance and transport viewers to this alternate universe.
Overall, the cast delivers as strong of a performance as they can, given the storyline. DramaTech claimed that the audience would remember the performance, something that the audience might actually regret. “Cartoon” shocks but not with awe.
With its bizarre, random and confusing scenes, “Cartoon” disturbs viewers, who leave the theater feeling uncomfortable and violated. Rather than leaving viewers questioning the world around them and the influence of others, viewers may wonder what they could have done instead for 65 minutes on their Friday night.
Our Take: 2/5
Correction: Previously the article stated that DramaTech was part of the Ferst Center, when in actuality they occupy their own individual space.