To understand the nature of My Verona Productions' new stage comedy Dingo Boogaloo 2: Taco's Revenge - indeed, to gain insight into My Verona's co-founders, Sean Leary and Tristan Layne Tapscott - one may as well begin with Chickenzilla.
"We are unleashing Chickenzilla upon the world," states Leary, with no small measure of pride.
"Oh, Chickenzilla ... ," responds an amused Tapscott.
And they both laugh.
Um ... Chickenzilla?
"Well, uh ... ," begins Leary, still chuckling.
"Chickenzilla is the star of the show," says Tapscott.
"Chickenzilla is a half-chicken, half-dinosaur - "
" - dragon-type thing - "
" - half-dragon ... thing ... um - "
And Leary takes a long pause, which is only interrupted by Tapscott's assurance that "you have to just see it, really."
"Yeah, really," agrees Leary. "It's kind of a ... a mutant beast of ill repute."
And they laugh again.
Their merriment is perhaps understandable considering the duo's most recent collaboration: My Verona's production of Patrick Marber's intense sexual roundelay Closer. Now, however, the company is hurling itself into another direction entirely, presenting what Leary calls "the first Monty Python-like sketch comedy that's been done in the Quad Cities."
Inspired by Leary's comedic anthology series, The Dingo, which has been published twice a year since March 2003 - "I liked the idea of naming a humor magazine after a wild dog," Leary says - Dingo Boogaloo 2: Taco's Revenge (opening this weekend at ComedySportz) is an anything-goes amalgam of comedic skits, both staged and filmed, and written primarily by Leary and Layne themselves. In fact, if the show - which its producers refer to as DB2 - bears any ties to Closer beyond Leary's and Layne's involvement with it, they're in the comedy's adults-only caveat. A draft of the DB2 script includes a sketch on the backwoods sexual politics of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, a filmed segment involving a televangelist who rails against "homosinuality" while indulging in bizarre fetishes of his own, and an anti-anti-abortionist piece entitled "Pissing Calvin," and if audiences are at all shocked by the production's strange and often tasteless material, that suits the producers just fine. Says Leary of DB2, "It's really pushing the boundaries of what you would expect not only of local theatre, but, I think, of theatre in general."
At first glance, My Verona's co-founders would seem to have little in common beyond their shared, and certainly bizarre, senses of humor. Leary, a graduate of Northern Illinois University, began writing for newspapers and the national publication Comics Buyers Guide while still in junior high, and has served as the arts editor for The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus since 1993. The 21-year-old Tapscott - a veteran of, he says, "about a hundred shows" - is currently a junior at Western Illinois University, majoring in Musical Theatre Performance. They would seem the oddest of collaborators; Leary writes theatre reviews, and Tapscott has often been reviewed by Leary.
But the pair first had the chance to work together in last summer's production of Your Favorite Band, a multimedia-influenced dramatic comedy written by Leary and featuring Tapscott among its leads. For the duo, the experience proved to be an enjoyable and beneficial one. "We had a lot of fun with it [Your Favorite Band]," says Leary, "and over the fall and winter we decided, 'Why don't we do another show?' And then we decided, 'Why don't we do a season of shows?' because there were a lot of shows that we wanted to pursue."
Tapscott adds: "We wanted to do stuff that was a little bit different, and definitely new to the area."
With the two men providing the necessary financing themselves ("him [Sean] mostly," admits Tapscott, "'cause I'm a poor college student"), a fledgling theatrical organization was soon born. My Verona Productions - the moniker, first created for Your Favorite Band, combines that show's elements of music (Knack's chart-topper "My Sharona") and theatre (the oft-used Shakespearean locale) - would devote itself to works outside the area norm, yet Leary and Tapscott insist that their production company has no grand artistic design. "Basically," Leary states, "we want to have a good time and do a show that's entirely different from anything going on in the Quad Cities."
"That's kind of our motto," says Tapscott. "It's a good time. That's pretty much all we're about."
The notion of a performer and critic co-founding a production company might seem unlikely, especially considering their lack of previous producing experience, but both Leary and Tapscott believe their disparate theatrical backgrounds are reflected in My Verona's eclectic nature. "I think the fact that both of us come from 'outside the box' makes it easier for us to think outside the box," says Leary. "I've been a theatre critic for the last 10, 11 years here, and I've seen a lot of the same shows over and over and over again. One of the reasons I'm doing My Verona is because I want to see new shows coming to the area ... . We want to bring something different to the mix."
Tapscott concurs: "As an actor, after doing certain shows over and over again ... it's more gratifying to create a character that hasn't been done a thousand times. An audience isn't going into a theatre expecting you to perform this [a certain] way. And with a show like DB2, there's nothing to expect."
Except, perhaps, the unexpected. The collaborators become almost giddy and their conversation overlaps when describing DB2...
Leary: "It's a combination of film, live action, comedy - "
Tapscott: " - music - "
Leary: " - it's music, there's a spoof on musicals, there's fake commercials - "
Tapscott: " - a spoof on Oprah - "
Leary: " - a spoof on Oprah and Tom Cruise - "
... and their gregariousness is so genuine that it feels almost redundant when Leary describes the production's rehearsal process as "a very exciting, imaginative, and invigorating environment."
He's equally effusive about DB2's structure: "One of the cool things about the script is that the characters recur, you have themes that recur, everything ties in together, all the sketches weave into one another, a lot of sketches turn on one word and then - boom! - you're in the next sketch."
A preliminary draft of the script reveals the show's modus operandi. The passing mention of a cartoon character at the end of the "Car Trip" sketch leads to that character's immediate reference in the televangelist skit "Ezekiel Snowy." After Glengarry Glen Ross is referred to, we proceed directly to the charmingly titled "Ricky Roma Has a Stiffy," in which David Mamet's macho salesmen are enacted by a group of catty homosexuals (including, as the script refers to him, "an incredibly flaming gay man"). The DB2 style could be termed "nonstop hilarity" - provided, of course, that one shares Leary's and Tapscott's view of the term "hilarity."
Like Your Favorite Band, portions of the DB2 "story" will be told through short films by local film company Bluebox Limited. Leary, for one, believes that this theatrical device, though potentially disconcerting to devotees of "traditional" theatre, will continue to gain widespread acceptance. "The multimedia thing is something that's very comfortable to ... Generations X and Y. When you're used to being on the Internet, watching TV, and listening to music in the background - that sort of multi-tasking, entertainment-wise - I think it's very comfortable for people to go into this and see part movie, part live-action theatre, a musical element involved ... . There are all different kinds of ways to present a show."
And there are all different kinds of shows for My Verona to present. Plans for the organization's sure-to-be-eclectic future include more theatrical productions, among them a stage version of David Sedaris' Santaland Diaries (which Tapscott calls "probably a sure thing in the winter"), Tapscott's adaptation of a graphic novel penned by Leary, and even further experiments in celluloid. Reveals Leary: "There's still the possibility of us actually doing Dingo Boogaloo as a film."
Consider yourselves warned. Chickenzilla Vs. Mothra could be right around the corner.
Dingo Boogaloo 2: Taco's Revenge will run at Comedy Sportz from July 7 through July 17. For reservations, call (309) 786-7733, extension 2.