The drama is unfolding throughout downtown Missoula.
Timidly sought relationships, hesitantly maintained ties, damaged trust, bereaved regrets.
All in cars parked in front of a bar, local shops, a bank car park, even a dilapidated garage.
You are not directly part of it. You’re seated in the back and the actors up front immerse themselves in an original contemporary play for 10 minutes live.
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The Montana Repertory Theater is producing its latest “Plays on Tap” series. This one, “Buckle Up 2: On the Road Again,” is a sequel to his 2018 production set in parked cars.
As in the first version, audiences will see arguments, playful jokes, and other human moments in unlikely places, like a pickup truck outside a bank where someone is selling firewood in the bed of a pickup truck, or a car near Al and Vic’s house in which a pair argues over how their sex video was posted online.
What are the coins doing here, exactly?
In the past, the rep has done plays in cars, hotel rooms, even classrooms, the library, and gymnasium at Willard Alternative High School. Michael Legg, the art director, said these site-specific pieces accomplish a few different things that complement their more traditional productions.
“I’m interested in being a theater that serves Missoula, right? And sometimes that means taking theater to Missoula and making theater an event that can appeal to a different audience,” he said, or breaking notions of what theater can be.
“Theatre can happen anywhere and these stories are really cool and relevant to what’s happening in the world today, and I hope it will encourage them to come and see what we’re doing in a more traditional theater space. “, said Legg.
It works like this: You arrive at Montgomery Distillery and you are given a map. (Show up before your ticket time if you want a drink.) Then you’ll loop to locations around town, all about a 10-minute walk away. Watch for the Rep sandwich panel and the tourist guide, or use the QR code sheet that displays Google Maps. Then you hop in the back seat and, with no introduction, you’re thrust into a dramatic storyline.
A 10 minute piece is not unlike a short story – with a minimum word count you often step into a story that is already in motion. Some are deeply serious, some are humorous, some are both. The rep has commissioned national playwrights to produce these scripts, which are then acted out by a mix of University of Montana students and local actors.
Legg gives the writers no parameters, other than the car concept, and reminds them that student roles are a priority, since the rep is embedded in the University of Montana School of Theater and Dance. The material and the concept seem to be doing what they are intended as far as the audience is concerned: Legg said he has seen an increase in the number of young customers with the last two shows like this, and around 60% of their audience have said he had never been to a Rep Show.
And what juvenile roles the playwrights imagined.
Ken Urban’s “Intimate Moments” takes place outside of Al’s and Vic’s. A man and a woman in their twenties (Mena Carrara-Ackermann and Rory McLaverty, the latter wearing a perfect North Face t-shirt) start arguing over how, exactly, a sex video is made. recorded together ended up on PornHub, and what to do about it. The play and the actors aim for genuine anxiety and panic, not goofy humor: Carrara-Ackermann seriously questions McLaverty’s character about how it ended there and how jaded he is because his face is not visible. The only comic relief comes from his silly responses.
The story and the setting blend seamlessly, except for you, the viewer who witnesses it.
Another play, “Firewood,” by Abby Rosebrock, is staged in the TrailWest Bank parking lot. Rachel (Kendra Mylnechuk Potter) spots a former student, Cain (Mason Wagner), from a prison writing workshop she ran. She is curious about his life on the outside, and he is distant. Their back and forth as they sit on the pickup bed, with weighted perceptions and missed clues about class, complete with a very compelling Missoula wardrobe, are touching and yet indistinguishable to passers-by from something that could actually happen on the street. downtown. (Legg said that during a rehearsal someone rolled up on a bicycle and tried to buy Wagner some firewood.)
Some needed humor comes in the form of a calmer play, “Thank You, Ten,” by Emily Feldman, in which UM student Cubby Rodda plays an actor patiently guiding a parent (Ann Peacock) through Internet Tasks via FaceTime. Rodda is somewhat petulant, with a place to go, but to say what it is would ruin everything.
Kristoffer Diaz’s “843 Blue” is a burst of manic energy courtesy of UM theater major Joshua Griffith’s performance. Her character Avi supposedly found over 800 blue Gatorades in her trunk, which is understandably mysterious. As he animatedly releases a series of ideas about what to do with them, the audience member can only patiently nod, as does Perc (Jade Ware, another UM student.) You may need to nod or do something, since Griffith asks you more than once. The fourth wall breaking level escalates, but in surprising ways.
(Legg said the stories are written in such a way that you don’t have to do anything.)
The close range is an example of an effect theater can have that streaming TV and movies simply cannot. For an extreme and memorable test of this idea, get ready for “Cap’s Last Tape”.
It’s a one-man play, featuring only Finn Bonstein, who gave a performance in the rep’s “Back to School” plays at Willard. In this short piece, a few other teachers, there to discuss something as innocuous as a PTA meeting, were taken – and sometimes flattened – by the intensity of the character and the delivery.
In this play, written by Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin, they really take you out of the theater and out of downtown, really.
Head to the corner of Orange and Front streets and hang south at the parking garage until you see a battered red truck with a mattress topper parked facing the river, and at least Wednesday’s glimpse, a jumbled skyline with a bank of descending wildfire smoke from distances so near and so far that it is sadder to know the geographic details.
Cap launches into an audio memo, an annual rite of unrestrained venting. Something happened – personal losses triggered by an external catastrophe that cannot be undone.
The writing and directing pose several extremes, from the terrible loneliness of the present to the eloquent monologues of loss, sometimes passing through the recordings played by a young Cap on the telephone. (Voiced by Madalyn Wellman.)
In the script, a climate crisis has accelerated, which seems all too real when the valley in September is clogged with anxious smoke that makes the windshield dirty. The writing also evokes the costs of the pandemic and the desire to freeze time, or at least memory, in a simpler time. The striking frustration of the wheel is that, in the game and the reality outside of the pickup, you can’t.
The script and Bonstein’s fully invested performance would work like a monologue on stage. Seen from this angle, in the car, it works in a whole different way.
There were times when a so-called rhetorical question was asked, just to you, the audience member who was riding a shotgun, eye contact and all.
You don’t have to react, I guess – I didn’t, really, other than an involuntary nod. But the outward response of the viewer is less important than the intense effect.
It was theater, and it was an event, and probably one like you’ve never seen before.