Monday, June 24, 2013

'Dementia' breaks out for final Dad's show at Inman Park

Posted By on Mon, Jun 24, 2013 at 3:19 PM

Rodrigo (Lucky Yates, left), Helena (Amber Nash), and Daniel (Tom Rittenhouse)
  • Stacey Bode
  • Rodrigo (Lucky Yates, left), Helena (Amber Nash), and Daniel (Tom Rittenhouse)
The last theatrical production at Dad's Garage Theatre in Inman Park could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

The former warehouse on Elizabeth Street first provided a home to Actor's Express in August 1989. When the Express relocated to the King Plow Arts Center in the mid '90s, the playhouse became home to Dad's Garage, a scrappy young company that emphasized improv and plays that appealed to young adults. The area's recent gentrification inspired Dad's landlord to sell the property after 18 years.

The playhouse's final scripted production, Dementia Juice, teams Dad's Garage artistic director Kevin Gillese and puppeteer/7 Stages associate artistic director Michael Haverty. Dementia Juice was already in the works when Dad's Garage struck a deal to make 7 Stages the company's interim home while looking for a permanent space. In their curtain speech at Dementia Juice's opening night, Gillese and Haverty joked that they're going to be roommates. Dementia Juice provides both artists with a chance to play to their strengths - Gillese's high-energy approach to pop culture and Haverty's wildly inventive puppetry - to give the Inman Park playhouse an entertaining, exhausting send-off.

As if channeling a particularly nebbishy Matthew Broderick, Tom Rittenhouse plays Daniel, a neuroscience expert graduating medical school. He's thrilled to have gotten engaged to beautiful Rachel (Perry Frost) and to have invented a medicine that could cure dementia in Alzheimer's patients. On the day of the play, he's about to give a valedictory speech and then meet Rachel's parents, but his mischievous classmates spike his drink with homemade LSD. Daniel first notices that things might be amiss during his speech, when his podium behaves as if it has a mind of its own.

A macabre comedy underscored by vintage horror movie music, Dementia Juice makes a selling point of its crazy sets and props, with puppets that run a gamut of styles. Inanimate objects come to life, and at one point Daniel battles with every fixture and appliance in a bathroom. His adorable loris (a lemur-like primate) looks realistic even though it behaves like a comic sidekick. Haverty also concocts utterly freaky, surreal creations: Let's just say that the decorative plants outside Rachel's parents' front door are Not Safe For Work.

As if his hallucinations weren't enough to send the play askew, Daniel finally meets Rachel's parents, purple-haired Helena and smoking-jacketed Rodrigo, and finds them to be completely deranged. For most of Dementia Juice's run, Helena and Rodrigo will be played by Amber Nash and Lucky Yates, two Dad's regulars who crack jokes on a national stage as part of "Archer's" voice cast.

On opening weekend, however, the roles were played by Taylor M. Dooley and George Faughnan. (Faughnan and Dooley will also be substituting for Yates and Nash July 18-20.) Faughnan, like Yates, has been a longtime fixture of the Dad's Garage improv troupe and remains a reliably live-wire stage talent. Casting the likes of Faughnan or Yates opposite whippersnappers like Rittenhouse testifies to Dad's longevity, as veteran ensemble members can credibly play the parents of the younger ones. Faughnan also performed in some of the company's most inventively berserk shows, like Action Movie: The Play and the theater's first staging of Cannibal! The Musical. Dementia Juice shares the same anything-goes quality.

Apart from a contrived penchant for quoting baseball lingo, the Rachel character proves underwritten and underplayed by Frost, while the second act includes some flashes of "real," unpleasant violence. Thematically thin, Dementia Juice works best as a series of surreal set pieces, along the lines of old Daffy Duck cartoons or the slapstick scenes from Evil Dead II. Featuring masturbating mammals, hostile toothbrushes, and references to HBO dramas, Dementia Juice brings the curtain down on Dad's original performing space in appropriately madcap fashion.

Dementia Juice Through July 27. $7-$21. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. Dad's Garage Theatre, 280 Elizabeth St. 404-523-3141.

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