Ah Hoc theater to offer challenging experience Oct. 10, 11, 12 and 19 at 7:30 p.m.
In the middle of what seems to be a surging theater scene in Southeast Texas, one company is setting out to confront audiences’ perceptions of what theater can be by offering challenging subject matter in unconventional settings.
Beaumont’s Ad Hoc theater group will present “Penetrator,” Oct. 10, 11, 12 and 19 at 7:30 p.m., with a special midnight performance Oct. 18, at The Art Studio, Inc.
Tickets are $15 and $10 for students.
Described as pitch-dark comedy, the show centers around a pair of roommates, Alan (William “Gator” Armitage) and Max (Jody Reho), in their Beaumont Old Town house. They are regular guys who work and make their way through the world in relative contentment until Woody (Michael Mason), Max’s childhood friend, comes for a visit.
“Some of the interesting things about this show, apart from the fact that it’s part of this ‘In-Yer-Face’ theater movement, is that it is happening immediately,” Mason said. “It’s taking place in October 2013, on the day that you see it. It is a real-time experience.
“It allows the audience to feel this out and know that it is in Beaumont, it can happen in Beaumont, and they probably know characters like this.”
Alan and Max are average bachelors, slightly directionless, who are hard-working, beer-drinking, and just enjoy hanging out.
“They are totally satisfied with their lifestyle,” Armitage said.
When Woody shows up, things begin to shift.
“He’s just getting back from Afghanistan,” Mason said. “You’re not immediately aware that something’s off, but the show progresses from that point. The two roommates, and the audience, realize that something is wrong with this guy. He’s been changed by war.
“Some of the things that I’m interested in, thematically, is the juxtaposition between these two guys living in Beaumont — going to work, going to bars, hitting on chicks — and this man who’s been in Afghanistan, seeing things that you or I won’t ever see, and the meeting of these two worlds.”
Mason said that the genre switches as the play progresses.
“It starts out as a black comedy, and then once this other character is introduced, you go from this naturalistic, black comedy structure to a thriller, a whodunit, a ‘What the hell’s happening?’ sort of dark drama,” he said.
Armitage said that when the visitor is introduced, it is like a coil or spring tightening.
“Whenever he shows up the level of tension starts to grow,” he said. “It changes from a semi-lighthearted, comedic piece to a very volatile environment.”
Mason said the structure of the show will be familiar to people
“I hope it will pull the audience in as they say, ‘I know that guy’ or ‘I am that guy’ or ‘My kid is friends with that guy,’” he said. “It’s familiar characters and then it just sort of flips.
“I’m hoping the beginning will pull people in and then they will go on this tense rollercoaster ride. I think they will like it and not like it, too, but they will have had an experience they will be able to talk about. I’m interested to see exactly what people think.”
Named for the book of the same name by Aleks Sierz, the “In-Yer-Face” movement, which came about in the 1990s in England, aims to create a visceral, violent, provocative, intimate theater experience.
“A lot of the stuff Ad Hoc has been doing has been skirting on the edge of that,” Mason said. “That’s what I have been interested in, what theater can be — sort of intimate and poetic.”
The play features a series of abstract video interludes with a provocative voice over that suggest to the audience that something is happening or about to happen.
The play, written by Anthony Nielson, is based on a true story.
“A few crazy things happen, but it is based on a reality that happened to a playwright who then dramatized it,” Mason said.
The dynamic between the two friends is changed when Woody “penetrates” their comfortable existence.
“It’s like throwing a handful of change into a dryer that’s been running smoothly,” Armitage said.
“Or bricks,” Mason adds.
Reho said that Alan and Max have a relationship that has evolved so they are almost a couple.
“They are roommates who depend on each other for their own debauchery,” he said. “They push and pull each other. It is a strong friendship but it might be based more on circumstance rather than something that’s a healthy, fruitful relationship — they are sounding boards for each other’s bullshit.”
Armitage said they are almost like Oscar and Felix from “The Odd Couple.”
Armitage and Reho were roommates in the past, and they see some parallels in the characters and their own experiences.
“A lot of what spoke to both of us, the familiarity we had with these characters, the bickering with each other, the enabling and supporting,” Reho said. “This is a much different version of that relationship.”
Armitage said it is a challenge to not fall into versions of themselves.
“You have to remind yourself that these are characters, even though some of the dialogue is so freakishly spot on to conversations that we probably had,” he said. “You still need to search and dig, and find out who these people are and represent them appropriately.”
Ad Hoc grew out of Aztec Economy, a group in Brooklyn that Mason worked with.
“I wanted to bring a little of that to Beaumont, that stuff I was obsessed with,” he said.
Armitage and Reho were roommates at the “Beach House” in Beaumont’s Old Town when Mason returned to Southeast Texas.
“Mason came back into town and has something wrong with him that he can’t stand not to be doing theater constantly,” Reho said, wryly. “He asked to do a show in the space we were in.”
“I want this in,” he said, laughing. “I told him that I had an idea to do a David Mamet show and Michael said, ‘Mamet’s terrible, we should do these plays.’”
Mason said the real story is that he returned to Beaumont from New York and heard that the other two were doing plays. He was invited to a party at the Beach House and the rest is history.
“Michael had the material and we had the space,” Armitage said, adding that they were also interested in exploring and presenting new work. “We just said yes — whatever those scripts were, yes.”
Ad Hoc said The Art Studio fits into their mission to present not only unconventional shows, but also in unconventional spaces.
“The script dictates the spaces we are looking for a lot of the time,” Armitage said.
While “Penetrator” deals with mature subject matter, Mason said he really believes people will enjoy the experience.
The play lasts just over an hour with no intermission.
Seating is limited. To make a reservation, email firstname.lastname@example.org