Review of New/Old Tamarie

When I was a student at UHD, I passed by the Catastrophic Theatre daily. It’s a brave little building whose creative energy is so potent that it cannot be contained but rather spills over, colorfully transforming what might have been just a back road shortcut to the UHD parking lot into an artistic expression. Its face is a canvas, and often a car bedecked with statues of Jesus and monkey figurines can be seen parked outside: a telling representation of attitudes and themes one can expect of the productions within.

I’ve now had the pleasure of viewing two Tamarie Cooper musicals at Catastrophic. The first was her wildly hilarious Tamarie Cooper’s Doomsday Review, which had me laughing so hard my six-pack came back. When I received my post-card advertising a new Tamarie Cooper show, I looked forward to it with the giddiness of a child awaiting her birthday.  Not surprisingly, Tamarie Cooper’s Old as Hell is a bold, relevant, and absolutely captivating tour of the experience of aging, and the differences in perspectives between generations.

The musical begins with a customary opening number, aptly titled “It’s The Opening Number!”, during which the ensemble shatters the fourth wall by immediately acknowledging the cast’s awareness of the show and the audience’s presence. The number continues with an enthusiasm that can best be described as manic. The cast, singing and dancing in hyper unison shamelessly blurt hilarious obscenities, setting the precedent for the rest of the show.

Suddenly, the “Theatre Police” interrupt mid-song to force Tamarie’s resignation from playing the main character in her own show. Theatre law dictates that lead roles are reserved for younger actors. After the Theatre Police successfully overthrow Tamarie, she becomes determined to recapture her youth by inculcating herself into the younger generation’s social sphere. In her plight she encounters a whole host of hilarious characters from culture-resenting hipsters, to meh-saying internet trolls, and even her younger self.

While Tamarie (the character) avidly objects to the notion that she is old, Tamarie Cooper (the creator/director/choreographer/lead actor) displays the full extent of her commitment to comedy by interspersing the action of the play with jokes about her declining mobility, her waning performance stamina, and her “sweet, sweet ass”.  The ability to confidently present herself as the butt of her own jokes not only makes for a good laugh, it also gives her more creative license in making fun of society since she proves that nothing is off limits, not even herself.

Tamarie Cooper’s direction yields an impeccable performance. She stages her actors effectually, making sure to incorporate good use of levels and motion so there is never any confusion about where the focus is intended to be. Her actors are always articulate and expressive. Their ability to uphold a completely cooperative energy maintains the audience’s confidence in her absurdist paradigm, which is quite a feat considering that the musical numbers are often interrupted and the fourth wall is almost non-existent.

The set, designed by Ryan McGettigan, is simple but effective. Reminiscent of a fifties-style television show, the background consists of a wall checkered with circular holes through which the live band is always visible. Upstage left, a large circular frame draped with a curtain serves as an entrance for actors as well as a projector screen upon which videos, designed by Tim Thomson, are projected to complement plot points. The show’s tastefully minimalistic use of scenery and props is a testament to the power of its entertainers.

Because Tamarie’s shows require actors to play multiple characters, roles are divvied up based on the timing of character entrances, the frequency and overlap of certain characters, and the actor’s ability to portray distinctly different personalities. The ensemble is brilliant, comprised of experienced actors whose ages range from teen to…well, old as hell. Their mutual passion yields a breathtakingly coordinated performance with a seemingly endless supply of energy: proof that there are no small parts, only small actors.

Of course, Tamarie Cooper’s Tamarie Cooper deservedly shines as the star of this performance. However, there are many memorable characters that merit acknowledgment. Actress Jessica Janes delivers an outstanding performance.  Her Hipster Queen character is “totes” superb, only out-shone by her startlingly spot-on portrayal of young Tamarie. Kyle Sturdivant, though inexplicably absent in the program, delivers a hilarious embodiment of Myspace. Sara Jo Dunstan’s “meh” face still has me giggling. Kudos to supporting cast members Karina Pal Montano-Bowers as the unforgettable Sexy Towel Girl, and Shannon Adams as the adorably aloof Hipster.

Tamarie Cooper’s Old As Hell does not disappoint. Anyone who has ever felt like a victim of their age will relate to its message and learn an invaluable lesson about coming to terms with your position in life no matter how old you are.