Who knew what would erupt when Theater Vertigo's well-rounded acting ensemble decided to team up with defunkt theatre's forward-thinking design group for playwright Len Jenkins' Like I Say?
Both innovative companies have proven to be volatile in their own right, but together their chemistry is downright explosive. Jenkins' zany, dreamlike script is a particularly compelling choice for the companies' first collaboration, as it illustrates dueling realities representative of the companies' diverse styles: The first is the world of the writer Isaiah Sandoval (Gary Norman); the second is the world of his story.
In spite of the show's billing as "an earnestly askew comedy...wrapped around a melodrama," deep sadness invades every origami fold of Isaiah's paper planet. Imagine a kind of love affair between David Lynch's sick, shadowy Mulholland Drive and Terry Gilliam's dazzling, dark comedy Time Bandits.
In the larger story, the disturbed Isaiah and his nursemaid, Rose (Julie Starbird), stay indefinitely at the Hotel Splendide, a nearly condemned, nearly vacant magnet for a variety of idle and disillusioned guests. The world of the hotel is slow, strange and nostalgic. Its tempo echoes the incessant sigh of the sea, the sounds of which one can always hear in the background. This is defunkt's territory—a sometimes frustrating world that might showcase rhythms of speech or shards of light, but always steers clear of orderly narrative.
The story-within-a-story, on the other hand, races along the more familiar, melodramatic path to which Vertigo is accustomed. Gobbling plot points as if they were Pac-Man dots, Coconut Joe (Keith Cable) embarks on an epic journey in search of the perfect coconut flake. Where defunkt tends to abandon story, Vertigo sometimes embraces it to the point of delicious absurdity, as in their season opener The Flu Season, where narrative conventions like Prologue and Epilogue became flesh-and-blood characters.
In Like I Say, as the two worlds edge closer and closer together, Isaiah sinks further and further into chaos, but not at the expense of his story, which ultimately rises above its dizzying pace and silly devices to become something quite clear and resonant.
Vertigo and defunkt make a cute couple: Let's hope next season their fling blossoms into a full-blown affair.
Defunkt Theatre and Theatre Vertigo at Theater! Theatre!, 3430 SE Belmont St., 306-0870. 8 pm Thursdays-Saturdays. Closes May 13. $15, Thursdays are "pay what you will."