A review of Nelle Tankus’ “The Untitled Play About Art School,” staged by Copious Love Productions at 12th Avenue Arts through Dec. 21.
Art school isn’t going so well for Amy Antonia. She’s just about to graduate from her playwriting program at a prestigious private performing arts college, but she’ll have to finish her thesis and present it to get there. Among the obstacles: crippling depression, an arbitrarily imperious school president, a coterie of elitist classmates, a sympathetic but enabling instructor and her own play, which might be bleeding over into the real world, human-craving monster and all.
Local playwright Nelle Tankus’ “The Untitled Play About Art School,” now on stage from Copious Love Productions at 12th Ave Arts, is a work that could have been created in this world. A dash of metafiction, a good helping of absurdity and extensive classical allusions are blended together in a package that teeters on the edge of chaos, but is held mostly steady by Tankus’ cutting dialogue and eye for weird character specificities, like a surreptitiously eaten can of cat food or a black licorice “Lady and the Tramp” kiss.
Madison Jane Jones embraces the chaos in her funny, freewheeling performance as Amy, a whip-smart misanthrope whose self-care and creative impulses tend to be at odds with each other. As she works to complete her thesis, a re-imagining of a Greek myth that positions mountain nymph Echo (Grace Carmack) as the leader of a revolution, Amy finds a kindred spirit in the ancient character.
‘The Untitled Play About Art School’
by Nelle Tankus. Through Dec. 21, 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle; $12-$18 (copiouslove.org).
Who can fault her? Her real-life options are underwhelming.
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College head Rhett Whetmore (Jeremy Behrens) wields his power like a club, threatening Amy with expulsion in between sniffs of amyl nitrite. Fellow students Ira and Marny (Alexei Cifrese and Samantha Routh) lord their status over Amy, while her therapist, Gabriel (Richard Sean Glen), condescends to her in his own way.
Amy’s only real ally is her professor, Wilhelmina Rosemary (Merri Ann Osborne), whose praise is effusive but whose actual competence is questionable. At some point, one wonders whether Wilhelmina’s most effective contribution to Amy’s well-being is a bottle of purse wine or a glass of vodka with a gummy worm in it.
A little bit of faux-classical verse goes a long way, and the play’s frequent trips back to ancient Greece, where Behrens doubles as another tyrannical ruler and Osborne, Cifrese and Routh constitute a chorus, can get bogged down in a solemnity that’s at odds with the acrid tone of the stronger school scenes. (It does become decidedly less solemn with a late hard-left turn into “Little Shop of Horrors” territory.)
The production plays out on Reiko Huffman’s narrow, elevated catwalk set, an obstruction that forces director L. Nicol Cabe to stage a number of visually identical scenes in the limited space. Still, under her direction, the play buzzes with energy — much of it uncontained — in an intermission-free 90 minutes.
As “The Untitled Play About Art School” progresses, Amy finds herself increasingly ambivalent about her own playwriting. Tankus doesn’t seem to share that quality with her main character; the edges are rough, but this is a play that reveals a confident authorial voice.