A review of playwright Quinn Armstrong’s mélange of Russian tropes, “Zapoi!,” now on stage at Annex Theatre.
It’s easy to see why Annex Theatre chose “Zapoi!” to open its 28th season; the fringe company values outsized ambition and unusual theatrical scenarios, and Quinn Armstrong’s play handily checks both boxes. Unfortunately, like a number of recent Annex shows, this one is more about quantity than quality, making for a self-indulgent heap of winking moments of self-reflexivity, overblown physical comedy and wacky gags that value randomness as the zenith of humor.
One gets the feeling no one ever said “no” to the playwright during the creation of this not-ready-for-primetime mélange of Russian tropes that begs for an editor’s scythe as it approaches the three-hour mark.
“Zapoi!” takes its title from a Russian slang term for a long, catastrophic bender. And the play’s conceit, at least, is somewhat clever — the time-space continuum has collapsed in one Russian town, causing all the country’s history to run together simultaneously.
By Quinn Armstrong. Through Saturday, Feb. 21, at Annex Theatre, 1100 E. Pike St., Seattle; $5-$20 (206-728-0933 or annextheatre.org).
Painter Andrei Rublev, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and President Vladimir Putin are contemporaries in this splintered community, where a heroin-addicted dog (Carol Thompson) acts as the narrator and everyone is wary of an ominous candy factory nearby.
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Composer Kiril Andreyevich Vyrodok (Frank Lawler) happens upon the town in his attempt to avoid the long arm of Soviet censorship, but he can’t outrun KGB agent Oksana Oksanova Shelkovy (Kayla Walker), who’s determined to force the artist to pay fealty to the state.
While dodging her maneuvers, Kiril falls for the charms of present-day cafe owner Pericolo (James Weidman) — a potentially intriguing cross-generational romance that the play only feints toward.
While the comedy of “Zapoi!” is questionable (sample bits: a woman sings an infinitely long karaoke rendition of “Margaritaville” and a bear performs hacky stand-up comedy), it’s the tonally unsure turn toward drama in act two that proves to be its downfall.
After an incident that fundamentally alters nearly every character’s personality, the second act delves into an interminable series of torture-chamber interrogations, directed by Kaytlin McIntyre to achieve maximum volume, chaos and garishness. The play begins to resemble bad improv as actors shriek and flail across scenes connected by the thinnest of narrative threads.