Beautifully Chaotic They Do Not Move Opens at Catastrophic Theatre
Leave it to Brian Jucha and the folks over at The Catastrophic Theatre to premiere yet another work that defies explanation. The work is They Do Not Move, approximately 80 minutes of theater that manages to encapsulate our present using much of the past.
Literally, They Do Not Move is very much framed by Rod Serling’s “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” a classic episode of The Twilight Zone from its first season in 1960. If you’re not familiar (how dare you), but here you go: It’s an average day in an average American neighborhood when a meteor rips through the sky. Suddenly, the phones aren’t working, the cars won’t start. Then a neighborhood kid volunteers the obvious explanation: It’s not a meteor. It’s a ship landing from outer space and they (“the monsters” in the space ship) don’t want them (the people in the neighborhood) to leave. At least, that’s what happens in a story the kid read. In it, the monsters sent ahead people who look “just like humans” – a mother, a father and two kids – but they’re not human. Cue the neighbors looking sideways at each other and let the paranoia commence.
With Serling’s first act over, a red button is hit and an alarm sounds, and it’s time to get funky. Two people engage in a very familiar back-and-forth, the dialogue pulled from the so-called “Tripp Tapes” – conversations Linda Tripp recorded between herself and Monica Lewinsky about Lewinsky’s relationship with Bill Clinton – while the cast around them cha-cha slides and gets “Footloose.” In a lot of ways, the less said of what happens from here on out, the better. I will tell you that Carlton Funderburke’s infamous “I’m not worth your McDonald’s money?” rant appears, kitchen table issues are discussed around a child’s tea party set, the cast mimes along to a bit of the 1979 film When a Stranger Calls, there’s a lovely performance, and a beauty pageant featuring contestants from the East End, West U and River Oaks that really puts a spotlight on Houston. This and much more occurs before the cast returns to finish out the episode of “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”
Maybe it goes without saying, but They Do Not Move is a fever dream, beautifully chaotic and yet sharply focused. It’s so incisive one might say that it’s a bit heavy-handed (particularly the finale). Luckily, the bits and pieces of life, politics and pop culture taken by Jucha and the Catastrophic ensemble to be reinterpreted and reimagined, are then thrown back at the audience, leading to a relentlessly urgent journey through said fever dream that makes it hard to be weighed down. And boy is it relentless.
If you don’t know, the Houston Press gives out the Houston Theater Awards, and one of those awards goes to the “Best Trouper.” Trust I’m not tipping my hand (because I’ve no hand to tip), but watching the Catastrophic ensemble – a mass of sweaty exertion giving themselves emotional (and sometimes literal) whiplash to meet the demands of They Do Not Move – is a good reminder why such an award should exist. And in the midst of this frenetic work of art, they also nailed BTS’s “Boy With Luv” choreography, and that’s pretty cool, too.
Speaking of K-pop, a performance piece like They Do Not Move is an argument for why theater should also have fancams. All eight cast members seem to be in constant motion, and it’s impossible to see what each is doing at any given moment. And that’s a shame, because it is also clear, as your eye flits from one to another, that everyone in this stellar cast is worth watching.
Tamarie Cooper is the first cast member to catch the eye, sauntering across the stage with a cat-that-ate-the-canary look on her face. Amy Bruce brings stability, and Karina Pal Montaño-Bowers steals focus. Noel Bowers stands out embodying paranoia, and Kyle Sturdivant effortlessly goes from perplexed to entitled to tangoing with a ventriloquist’s dummy. Dillon Dewitt delivers in his Serling-penned monologue, which is just as satisfying as his turn in a wig and sequins to perform “When Will I See You Again” by The Three Degrees (along with Bowers and Sturdivant). Silky voiced Miika Stewart’s solo is fantastic, but it’s the matter-of-fact attitude as the kid explaining monsters to the adults that is unexpectedly memorable, as is Gabriel Regojo’s turn as the unknown caller terrorizing the babysitter. It’s the crazy eyes and the way he impatiently wants someone to pick up the phone.
The star of the creative team is Roma Flowers, who is responsible for lighting design, as well as video and projection design. It’s all very in your face, just like the show, and the clock projected on the upper right side of the stage, looming menacingly above the action, is a highlight. Under Flowers lighting design, everything seems more stark – the set, which is mostly bare, save for some chairs and tables, and a random assortment of props from prop designer Lauren Davis, as well as Leah Smith’s costumes. Andrew Archer’s sound design deserves a lot of credit, but when you think about the soundscape of They Do Not Move, you’ll really be thinking about the Brian Jucha’s music selections. They are rangy, to say the least, from Michael Shamblin to Diana Ross.
One thing that is clear walking out of They Do Not Move is that yellow rubber duckies are to Catastrophic’s 30th anniversary season as pink flamingos were to their 2018-2019 season. But what exactly that means, who knows? You’re going to have to see They Do Not Move to come up with an answer all your own.
Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and November 28, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:30 p.m. Sundays through December 10 at The MATCH, 3400 Main. For more information, call 713-521-4533 or visit catastrophictheatre.com. Tickets are pay-what-you-can with a suggested price of $35.