Alarms and Excursions

One of the most seductive myths of contemporary culture is the notion that technology has somehow made us superior to our predecessors. No matter that advanced industrial societies run roughshod over the rest of humanity, destroying nature in the process. We justify this behavior because it is "good for the economy." After all, as General Electric commercials used to tout, "Progress is our most important product."

In an effort to counteract this rampant ethnocentric hubris, playwright Michael Frayn has crafted eight playlets under the banner of Alarms and Excursions. Now running at the Nomad Theatre in Boulder, Frayn's sophisticated pastiche of mini-farces takes particular aim at the mind-numbing array of electronic contrivances and franchised environments ubiquitous to "modern civilization."

The talented ensemble of Howard Lester, Deborah Curtis, Benjamin Summers, and Karen La Moureaux each portray a half-dozen characters besieged by incessant answering machines, cell phones, ovens, door bells, sirens, smoke detectors, plug-in carving knives, cookie-cutter motel rooms, and driveling television sets.

The opening title sequence, "Alarms," sets the tone (pun intended) for the evening, as two couples sharing dinner are driven to their wits end amidst a cacophony of appliances gone haywire. The clockwork arrangement of characters, their dialogue, and the intervening events are reminiscent of Frayn's two most successful plays, Noises Off and Copenhagen, and underscore his mastery of the farcical genre.

This is followed by "Doubles," which uses a split stage of opposing motel rooms to create an incredibly well-crafted mirror effect using two couples from different walks of life. Again, finding a fresh approach to a common comedic shtick, Frayn is able to create stinging social commentary without any need for pronouncements, while keeping the laughs rolling.

The second act is comprised of a series of shorter skits that, while interesting metaphors all, are unable to generate the incessant bursts of humor achieved by the near-perfect premises of the first act, despite the continued polished characterizations of the four actors and Howard Lester's insightful direction. Still, they are engaging:

In "Leavings," social conventions are taken to absurd lengths as we revisit the couples from the opening skit at the end of their evening, unable to extricate themselves from the occasion; "Look Away Now" uses the standard stewardess demonstration preceding every airplane flight to illustrate the inertia of inurement; loud music and a noisy crowd turns a "Heart to Heart" conversation into a potentially violent confrontation; a teleprompter with a mind of its own makes a fool of a disarmament expert in "Glasnost"; an informal dinner buffet mixed with a business meeting transforms normally etiquette-conscious executives into gauche rustics in "Toasters"; and telephone technology plays havoc with well-made plans in "Immobiles."

The extended range of all the actors brings full expression to Frayn's multi-faceted script. Some of the most memorable characters include Howard Lester's bug-eyed gawker in "Look Away Now," Deborah Curtis' harried housewife in "Alarms," Benjamin Summers' guileless German tourist in "Immobiles," and Karen LaMoureaux's reality-challenged ingenue in "Alarms."

Nomad Theatre's Alarms and Excursions runs through June 26th. 303-774-4037.

Bob Bows


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