Epic’s Marshall Brings Out Stellar Performances

marshallFast-talking, pop-culture obsessed, stylish, leggy and lean. An apt description for both playwright Kevin Broccoli and his latest new play, Marshall, a crafty two-hander with a clever hook now seeing its world premiere at Epic Theatre Company until March 24.

As anyone who has followed this prolific playwright’s career knows, Broccoli is no stranger to coming up with new ideas and making the most of a good hook. Probably the most successful earlier idea was his Kickstarter campaign to stage Pug-let: The First Ever All-Pug Production of Hamlet. Exactly what it sounds like, the campaign was soon fully funded and picked up by the likes of “Good Morning America.” In fact, his idea steamrolled with such force that Broccoli was literally turning down the late-night talk show offers rolling in.

More recently, his two person show James Franco and Me landed in the New York Times not because of its artistic merit, but because of a cease and desist letter from Franco’s legal team shutting down a New York production over usage of the actor’s name. Which is a shame, because the strongest “hook” of that work was actually found in its structure – the playwright mandated that the script was only to be performed without rehearsals. The two actors (one of course, was Broccoli himself) each had to memorize their side of the script, and would experience their scene partner’s performance of the lines only in performance – at the same time as the live audience.

Broccoli discusses this in the press materials for his latest show, Marshall. “At one point, someone mentioned to me that it was a shame the controversy surrounding the show was overpowering the concept, because it really was an incredible experience for everyone who participated.” He goes on to explain, “The idea of two actors having to trust each other enough to perform a show without ever having discussed it really led to some amazing theater, and I started to wonder if there was a way to recreate the magic of the Franco show with a brand-new script.”

The answer to that question lies in the one hour and 20 minute Marshall. An opportunity for two actors to perform with little safety net to catch them. Two performers must memorize their side of the script and unrehearsed, the two only come together on the night of the performance to engage in the story at the curtain rises, in real time.

The plot is pretty straightforward, matched by the lack of any set to speak of except for two chairs set side by side onstage. Two actors arrive in a waiting room to audition for the lead role in a film. Each actor feels that they would be the perfect for the role of Marshall, although the wrench in the works is that one actor is human and the other is an android created for the sole purpose of acting. At each performance, Broccoli plays the android (named Green) with the Actor is played by a nightly rotating roster of local talent. At the press night performance that I attended, Christopher Crider-Plonka appeared opposite Broccoli as The Actor.

I have to admit, as someone who watches the Winter Olympics for both the athletic prowess and the on-ice wipeouts, the thought that something could go off the rails at any time was in the back of my mind.

Then the show began.

The sheer speed of the dialogue-fueled scenes immediately took me by surprise. This was no joke, no cakewalk scene study of Zoo Story here. This was a challenging script that kept the actors on their toes in order to not drop momentum, but also asked them to dig deep. The course of the evening’s scenes rang true with the feeling that the actors were there for each other and (due to assurance or just design) they were listening intently to each other. This brought out performances from both actors that were honest, incredibly well-acted, guileless in their truthfulness and often heartbreakingly lovely.

To reveal more of the piece would be a disservice. Go to see Marshall. Open yourself up to the possibilities and enjoy the ride.

Epic Theatre Company’s Marshall by Kevin Broccoli now through March 24 at the newly renovated 50 Rolfe Square, Cranston venue. Performances are Friday, March 9 @ 8pm (Featuring Adam Preston), Friday, March 16 @ 8pm (Featuring Michael Puppi), Friday, March 23 @ 8pm (Featuring Matthew Gorgone) and Saturday, March 24 @ 8pm (Featuring Nick Doig). High school and college student admission in free as part of Epic’s Free Ticketing Program. For tickets, e-mail epictheatrecompany@gmail.com.

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