The dramatic action/adventure genre isn’t something one normally associates with live theatre. Quick pacing and fight choreography and such are commonly thought to best reside in flat, glowing rectangles. Pop adventure theatre IS possible, though. One of its best local practitioners made a quick appearance onstage last Sunday. Liz Shipe's new pop adventure theatre show The Incredible Adventure of Alvin Tatlock made a humble initial expedition to the stage on the final evening of the Milwaukee Fringe Festival. The concise one-hour adventure featured Liz Shipe as an adventurer named Gertie Pike. Tall, affable Sean Duncan had a reserved charisma about him as mild-mannered Alvin Tatlock--a very precise sort of person who is swept-up in Gertie's search for the legacy of her father. Also appearing were Brian Quinn as a charming narrator and Robert Thomas Schmeling in a variety of supporting roles.
Though the pacing of the adventure in Alvin Tatlock feels ever-so-slightly uneven in places, the overall intensity of the action is very engrossing. Shipe and company do and excellent job of bringing sweeping adventure to the stage with a little more than a bench and a few odd props. The ensemble is strikingly compelling in the delivery of the action. You don’t need big explosions and huge sets and massive scores and quick edits to get something that feels like Allan Quatermain or Tarzan or Indiana Jones or Jack Flanders or Lara Croft. All you need is actors who seem convinced enough that the adventure is real...actors who are in close proximity on a small stage. THAT is where the adventure truly lies...because it doesn’t matter how big the CGI is or how big the explosions are if we don’t care about the characters. The cast of Tatlock does an excellent job of bringing across the full reality of the adventure on a relatively bare stage. (Michael Bay and James Cameron could learn a lot from Shipe.)
It’s a fun hour. Shipe’s plot borrows from a lot of popular adventure fiction which has been told and retold over and over again. My favorite bits of the script seem (probably unbeknownst to Shipe) to echo the serial narrative voices of Douglas Adams or Metball Fulton or Chris Claremont who were themselves echoing of various other bits of adventure comedy that have reverberated through pop fiction over the years.
The list of Shipe’s shows has grown quite a bit in the recent past. It seems like every year she’s doing something new. Over the years and very many shows that she's written or what becomes clear is that she's really, really good with cleverly funny adventure dialogue. What Shipe brings to the mix is some strikingly sharp dialogue. There’s a clever sense of fun about the way the characters talk to each other. In the role of Gertie, Shipe has given herself some really cunning bits of dialogue.
The script is friendly and familiar--with a style and a flow reminiscent of so many contemporary action stories. (Actually there seem to be A LOT of echoes in this script coming from the 2001 Tomb Raider movie: wealthy young British adventurer in the shadow of her father racing against others to get ancient treasure. There's even a sort of a parallel clock motif.) Plot elements may be heavily recycled but the heart of the story that's being told feels very fresh and unique because of the way that Shipe bends the dialogue around the characters in an ensemble that she's taken great care in bringing together. It's all so a well-balanced. And it's framed as the first in what could be a whole series for Shipe.
The Incredible Adventure of Alvin Tatlock was announced as a one-off. With a debut like this, I would love to see a few or a few dozen more trips to the stage with Gertie and Alvin. Shipe has already announced that plans are in place for future Tatlockery, "in the near-ish." For more information as it becomes available, keep in touch with Reconstructing Grimm's Facebook page.