the Inside Out ensembleMy Verona Productions' last stage presentation premiered almost a year ago, so you could argue that the company is simply making up for lost time with its production of Christian Krauspe's Inside Out, a play within a play within a play (within another play, if I interpreted the climactic scene correctly). Yet based on its April 10 preview performance, the author's work-in-progress is still less a play than a stoner's conceit - "What if, like, everything we say and do is being written by, like, some unseen higher power who's, like, determining our actions without, like, our knowing it?" - and holds together about as well as most stoned ramblings; a few hours and a few bags of chips later, your "insights" begin to look rather dim.

Happily, they can also be pretty enjoyable to reflect on. And so it is with Inside Out, an undisciplined, convoluted, occasionally confounding piece that nevertheless isn't devoid of cleverness, and (luckily for Krauspe) features a goodly amount of fearless-goofball acting. I'm not entirely sure what to make of it - I'm not sure that the performers, director Chris Walljapser, or even the playwright are altogether certain, either - but it's definitely worth talking about.

Here's the scoop, or at least as much scoop as I can reveal without my head exploding: Inside Out opens with a sword-wielding egotist (Bryan J. Tank) attempting to woo a shrill maiden (Jackie Madunic) with a beehive hairdo. (Unless I'm mistaken, it's literally a Beehive hairdo, as Madunic's wig seems awfully familiar from Quad City Music Guild's 2007 production of that musical.) This scene, however, turns out to be a rehearsal for a horrific, quasi-romantic stage adventure - titled Love's Last Gasp - that's being written on the fly by a hyper-tense young playwright (Tristan Layne Tapscott) saddled with a dufus stage manager (J.W. Hertner) and a pompous director (Adam Lewis, channeling Don McKellar in the Canadian series Slings & Arrows).

Bryan J. Tank and J.W. Hertner in Inside OutThis scene, however, turns out to be a sequence in a script being written by another hyper-tense playwright, Brad (Lewis), who is suffering from an acute case of creativity-block, and who seeks editorial aid from his levelheaded friend Liz (Liz J. Millea). Their conversations are subsequently usurped by the playwright for his play within the play, and... . Well, you get the idea, though it'd all probably make more sense if you were high.

Krauspe's set-up isn't terribly novel (it's more or less a crap-theatre spin on The French Lieutenant's Woman), but the playwright has done something shrewd with his material; he's managed to deflect criticism of Inside Out by making Brad and Liz critical of it, too. Just about any complaints you might make about the plays-within-the-play's witless storylines, laughable dialogue, and bizarre leitmotifs are acknowledged by the show's "real" characters, and Brad's and Liz's dialogue is literate enough - and Lewis' and Millea's badinage is relaxed enough - to suggest the brains behind the intentional stupidity. The awfulness on display is generally funny awfulness. (Frustratingly, however, neither Brad nor Liz seems much interested in improving Brad's endeavor; they merely want to complete it.)

Yet Krauspe's amusing self-flagellation isn't foolproof, as there's still plenty here to criticize. Any way you slice them, the logistics of Inside Out's topsy-turvy plotting make no sense; Brad is on some half-explained deadline to finish his work, re-writing and all, in a matter of hours, and Love's Last Gasp is apparently being performed publicly before its finale has even been written. One sequence - and only one - finds events occurring on two theatrical planes simultaneously, which splits our focus and confuses the action. And the show is steeped in the sort of crass juvenilia that (thankfully) hasn't been seen on local stages since My Verona's Dingo Boogaloo comedies; I, for one, felt embarrassed for the performers during the gags involving beaver-stroking and the "baby carrot" erection of Tank's lothario. (At one point, Liz congratulates Brad on his script's employment of "dickweed," a term that she says hasn't been uttered nearly enough on stage. It has now.)

Liz J. Millea and Adam Lewis in Inside OutFor all of Inside Out's flaws, though, the cast members seem to be having a marvelous time, and are oftentimes so floridly silly that we do, too; in the Love's Last Gasp scenes, in particular, Walljasper appears to have directed his actors to go over the top, and then over that top. Madunic continues to suggest that she's having more fun than any other actress in area theatre - she can attack a line with so much unexpected vigor that it explodes - and Tank is wonderfully enthusiastic; his boyish charm makes him slightly miscast as a threatening asshole (just as he was slightly miscast, in the Green Room's The Glass Menagerie, as Tennessee Williams' unthreatening asshole), but he's a terrifically engaging presence.

Tapscott delivers menschy nervousness with perfect, Matthew Broderick-style cadences and, as always, crack comic timing, and Hertner - who was quite good in Scott Community College's recent Richard Blaine - plays a goat-sired minion (don't ask) with wild, infectious gusto. And while Lewis and Millea are appropriately, entertainingly broad in the play-acting scenes, they're infinitely more varied, and more humanely hilarious, as Brad and Liz; though I eventually discovered (in a post-show Q&A) that the figure of Liz is actually written as a man, the characters' playful repartee and burgeoning near-romance is the most charming element of the show.

As a work-in-progress, I hope that Krauspe (who is scheduled to appear at Inside Out's April 13 performance) recognizes this, and also addresses a few other issues, such as why the actor playing Brad also plays Love's Last Gasp's director, rather than its playwright, and why Madunic's actress would overhear a plot to poison Tapscott yet conveniently forget that information in her subsequent scene. The work is a mess, but as My Verona's offering suggests, it's far from an unfixable mess.


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