Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A review of Jason Powell's "Invader? I Hardly Know Her!"

I first met Jason Powell in the comments to this blog, and of course you all know he became the site's major Guest Blogger -- in fact you can hardly call him a guest anymore, as the place is now more his than mine. Well now I have met him in person. He came to New York from Milwaukee because his science fiction musical -- Invader? I Hardly Know Her -- was accepted to the New York City Fringe Festival. A few years ago Mich Montgomery, who I also met in the comments of this blog, and who also became a guest blogger, had a play accepted to the Fringe Festival: Triumph of the Underdog. Since he lives in New York, he was able to give Jason some advice, and he and I went to see the final performance of Jason's musical -- a musical Jason wrote both the words and music for, and also has the lead role in, where, yes, he sings, and sings well.

I hate musicals. I went to a performing arts high school for choir, and listened to way too many musicals as a kid, so I am kind of allergic to them now. Phantom and Les Mis and Cats and all that. Just like when I saw Mitch's Triumph of the Underdog at the Fringe festival I went in doing something obligatory for a guy I knew, was not at all sure what I thought about it for the first 15 minutes or so, then got into the grove of it, then had a great time.

Just as in Mitch's Triumph of the Underdog the plot of Invader is absolutely not the point. In both, the world is threatened by extinction by a meteor and an extra-dimensional menace respectively, but in both what the doom of the world really heralds is a chance to geek out. It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine. You know that moment on the Simpsons, in one of the Halloween episodes, where the meteor is heading at comic book guy and the last thing he says is "I have wasted my life"? Both Mitch's Triumph and Jason's Invader reject that idea. I think both these guys, staring down the barrel of extinction, would ultimately feel like they had had great lives. Because as we all know, all this geeky bullshit matters, deep down. Because happiness matters.

Mitch's protagonist is delivering a lecture about pop culture and mythology, as the world is about to die -- that is his geek out. Powell's play is about a guy who finds out on his wedding day that his bride is an alien and they have to go to space to stop a 5th dimensional force from destroying the world. Powell's geek out is about sexy women and vocabulary. You are not at all surprised that this is a guy who could write 280 blogs about Claremont's X-Men, because wow does he love sexy powerful women and vocabulary. Not even as separate things. Powell's sexy powerful women use great vocabulary just about all the time. The bride has sexy super-agent bridesmaids, one of whom gets into a lesbian affair with a former female lover of the bride, and they all talk like this, while dressed as a sexy cowgirl, a sexy school girl, a sexy Pocahontas type, and a sexy French maid, all dancing:

CATHERINE
It’s true that we’re all ravishing creatures,
The kind that cause bold men to give chase.
We’re fortunate to have flawless features;
We’re blessed to have such feminine grace.
I’m glad that in this shallow society,
I occupy so privileged a place.
But let me tell you, in all sobriety,
I’m not just another pretty face.
MISSY/LUCY/AMELIE
She’s not just another pretty face.
CATHERINE
Now I know I’m extremely curvaceous.
MISSY/LUCY/AMELIE
‘Stremely curvaceous
CATHERINE
I’m hot in leather; lovely in lace.
MISSY/LUCY/AMELIE
Lace lace lace lace lace lace
CATHERINE
My schoolgirl garb might seem ostentatious,
MISSY/LUCY/AMELIE
Seem ostentatious
CATHERINE
Designed to cause your heartbeat to race.
MISSY/LUCY/AMELIE
Race race race race race race
CATHERINE
And granted, on my whole physicality,
MISSY/LUCY/AMELIE
Whole physicality
CATHERINE
Of imperfection there’s not a trace.
MISSY/LUCY/AMELIE
Trace trace trace trace trace trace
CATHERINE
But let me tell you, in actuality,
MISSY/LUCY/AMELIE
In actuality
CATHERINE
I’m not just another pretty face.
MISSY/LUCY/AMELIE
She’s not just another pretty face.
CATHERINE
Oh, behind
AMELIE
Hind
LUCY
Hind
MISSY
Hind
CATHERINE
This fetching physiognomy
(continues)
CATHERINE
(continued)
Is a mind
AMELIE
Mind
LUCY
Mind
MISSY
Mind
CATHERINE MIS./LU./AM.
Immersed in physics and astronomy.
And though I’m built like an ecdysiast,
My brain’s one of the busiest, Aaaaaah
Always cogitating, contemplating, calculating
Even while my figure’s got the fellas salivating.
And not only am I among the planet’s very smartest,
I’m a classical musician and a black-belt martial artist.
I can outshoot any marksman; I can out-fly any ace.
Yes, I’m more than a pretty face!

When David Mamet's mixed martial arts movie Redbelt came out I said I was going to love it because all I really want from movies is fancy poetic dialogue and violence (which is also why my favorite movie is Kill Bill). It is girls who kiss girls and use words like "ecdysiast," for Powell. And for me too, from now on. I have written two books. Alone. Jason Powell, in Wisconsin, wrote a science fiction musical where pretty girls make out with each other and him. Then he came to New York City and cast VERY attractive, very talented, actresses in all the parts. The man is a genius, before you even get to the word play and the music.

The strong women and the vocabulary are not the only places you see Claremont's influence on Powell -- he also makes little nods to Claremont, as a robot character refers to himself as "This Unit" like a good Sentinel. In the conclusion of the story the 5th dimensional menace possesses someone, and when attacked burns out the body and jumps to the body of the attacker, then again, then again, then again, until it goes for a robot at which point is gets trapped there by a kill switch. Shades of Claremont's Proteus abound.

Jason Powell and I are also die hard fans of Newsradio, which we both quote with abandon. When I got married, my wife and I quoted Newsradio in our vows (in the fifth season Lisa marries Johnny Johnson, who writes his own, beautiful vows about how she is his rose; Lisa, who did not know they were writing their own vows, improvises with "You are my sunshine ... my only sunshine ... and heybabeyourockmyworld." That was what my wife said when we were married, and maybe one person in the audience noticed).

In Invader one of Powell's character's says of her effeminate robot, "He's indispensable!" which is what Phil Hartman says about his "gentleman's gentleman." Later in the play the same character says "We are dealing with a dimension much higher than three or four." Someone asks, "How high exactly?" And she says "Five." Which Powell admits is a direct steal from the White Noise episode of Newsradio.

And if you think that is an obscure in-joke, nothing could be more obscure, or please me more, than one character having gotten something out of my book on superheroes:

Of the reference books
Worth the slightest of looks,
I’m the latest and greatest revision.
In the parlance of Bloom,
I’m the poet in whom
One can find other poets’ misprision.

What's funny is that while you can see the influence of so many things that Powell loves in his musical, you can also see the influence of one thing he elsewhere hates: Joss Whedon. Whedon of course did a musical episode of Buffy and created the webisode musical Dr Horrible. Powell, like Whedon, is bringing the musical to sci-fi geek outs, and like Whedon he loves to deflate the ridiculousness going on: at one point one of his characters, a sexy Indian, sings:

Then there is I,
Lucy Walks-on-Sky.
I don’t think you’ll deny,
I’m a pretty far cry
From any semblance of what you’d call political correctness.
But I admit, I’ve come to expect this.
Still, come on, a blonde girl dressed as a Native?
Couldn’t somebody have been a bit more creative?

He even breaks the fourth wall more explicitly at the end of act one, whose final words are "Don't worry this will make more sense in act 2!"

But my favorite thing about Invader is the rhymes. Claremont may have a great vocabulary, but Powell rhymes his great vocabulary with other great vocabulary:

The world will never be the same.
Who's to blame?
An old lady's been possessed.
My fiancee's extra-terrest-
Reality has just been turned upon its ear.
And I fear
The worst is yet to come.
My brain is starting to go numb.

It isn't right; it isn't fair.
It bends the rules of karma.
Of lousy breaks, you've had your share.
You nearly bought the farm; a
Casual observer would say
That for good luck, you're overdue.
But instead -- to your extreme dismay --
Someone drops the other shoe.

"Extra-terrest-Reality" is a nice play on words; the fact that before it is over it is rhymed with "possessed" makes it doubly good. There are a lot of things you can rhyme with "Karma" including "Samba" and "magma" -- but "farm; a (casual observer)" is fantastic good fun, as is the whole show.

7 comments:

Arthur said...

How would you describe the music? I think I read a comment somewhere that Jason likes Jim Steinman. I love Jim Steinman (I wish they guy would write more) so I imagine it sounds something like that.

Jason: are there any demos or cast recordings to buy and/or download?

New vocab words for me: misprision and ecdysiast.

Jason, could you write a part for me in your next play? I can't act, so I want the part to just be me on stage somewhere in the background where I get to make out with hot, scantily dressed women. You may get others who request this, but I get first dibs! Your actresses may want more pay to do this, so you may have to stress how important it is to your artistic vision.

Art

Jason said...

Hi Art,

There are demos, but not cast recordings as of yet. The demos are not the most pleasant things to listen to, so I haven't made them available yet for public consumption. Eventually, though, I'll put something out there.

Who is Jim Steinman?

Arthur said...

I swear someone made a reference to Jim Steinman in regards to your musical aspirations. I took it as a given that you were a fan.

Steinman is the guy who wrote anything by Meat Loaf worth listening to, so basically "Bat Out Of Hell" 1 and 2 (he had little to do with Bat 3, so don't blame that on him), and "Dead Ringer". He also released one solo album called "Bad For Good", which makes it clear that he needs other people to sing his songs. He's known for big, bombastic, theatrical, "Wagnerian Rock".

"Total Eclipse of the Heart" by Bonnie Tyler is his, as well as "Making Love out of Nothing at All" by "two idiots from Australia" aka Air Supply.

He put together a girl group called Pandora's Box that sold approximately zero records, but he later used songs for other projects, such as "It's All Coming Back To Me Now", which he gave to Celine Dion, and thus is the only song of hers worth listening to. (Steinman claims the song was inspired by Wuthering Heights, describing a "lost scene" where "Heathcliff digs up Catherine's body and dances in the moonlight and on the beach with it."

A bit closer to geek interests, Steinman was involved with an aborted Batman musical over a decade ago, inspired by Burton's Batman. He's posted some demos on his website: http://www.jimsteinman.com/dreampol.htm although the best track, "Not Allowed To Love", isn't there.

Have I convinced you of Steinman's genius or scared you away?

Art

Jason said...

If he's the author of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)", then you have absolutely scared me away.

Sorry!

Gary said...

"Nick said an ecdysiast. I thought that was a magician."

"Noooo... an ecdysiast is a stripper."

"I figured that out..."

Ah, the immortal Incredible Hulk bachelor party issue.

Jason said...

That's where I learned the word!

Gary said...

HA!