Chance Encounters

Travels, Tours and One-Night Stands is a theatrical pastiche that uses dance, dialogue, and live music to convey the joys and troubles of journeying through the world. But traveler beware: sexy though they may initially appear, one-night stands abroad are never a good substitute for a fulfilling relationship at home, and a series of skits with no plot, no conflict, and no real characters makes for a lackluster effort. Duane Boutte, Kim Ima, Onni Johnson, and Chris Wild begin the show as a quartet of strangers crammed into a cramped train somewhere in France. In an amusing skit, the uptight Boutte leans over, around, underneath, and on top of the other passengers in his attempts to get better reception on his cell phone as he conducts a rather loud conversation in French. Meanwhile, a more sensitive and friendly Wild breaks bread with Johnson and Ima.

When night falls, the passengers begin resting their heads on each other's shoulders, kicking up their legs on each other's laps, and innocently curling up next to each other. Boutte's ringing cell phone inevitably wakens them. Wild produces an accordion from his backpack and begins playing a Russian folk song. Initially upset with Wild for (ironically) disturbing his phone call, Boutte eventually takes up the accordion, and they all join together in a sing-along.

And so begins a series of scenes, each one creating a different backdrop for the actors to create different characters with different relationships to each other.

The cast members find themselves in Africa, captivated by natives performing tribal dances. Each of the four takes a turn as the dancing native while the others observe. Then the quartet is in a nameless place, struggling to set up a tent. And after that, they find themselves in India listening to live music being performed.

Wherever these four adventurers go, the set remains bare. Two boxes on wheels serve as luggage, a train, a perch, and a bench. Furthermore, the boxes contain all the effects used in the show, including a tent and a clothesline. The boxes even manage to house a cast member or two when necessary. The clever set designer, Gian Marco Lo Forte, deserves credit for creating the malleable and functional furniture.

But with only a few props at their disposal, the onus is on the cast to create a believable world around them, and to bring the audience into that world with them. While they succeed at the former task, they fail at the latter, leaving the audience asking too many questions.

Where is the forest in which these people are setting up their tent? What are their relationships to each other in each different scene? On the train through France, all four marvel at the sights passing by outside the train windows, but what are those sights? The audience watches while these four people watch, but watching isn't a very exciting action to observe.

More watching occurs later in the piece, as the cast members ogle a slide show of random locations projected onto the side of their tent. Other people's slide shows are always tedious to sit through, whether in a living room or here, in a theater. It does not help that each of the slides initially appears blurry, then slowly comes into focus. Also adding to the show's lagging effect are the scene transitions, drawn out for lengthy minutes as lights slowly fade out while the performers stand completely still.

Aside from poor conceptual choices, director/choreographer Kim Ima created dance moves that are not really choreographed and hardly seem to be dance moves at all. She also gives her cast far too much room to improvise. With conflict entirely absent from every skit except the first, scenes drag on without purpose. The cast members' improvisations are repetitive, their movements too natural to provide any real entertainment. Boutte, Wild, Ima, and Johnson never really flesh out who their characters are supposed to be, where they are, and what they are doing there.

At an hour and 15 minutes, the running time of Travels, Tours and One-Night Stands could be easily cut in half without losing any content. Or perhaps the cast could do a better job of filling the given time by creating more complete characters and giving them purposes and reactions to the foreign worlds to which they travel. Otherwise, I'd suggest passing on the one-night stands and waiting for a real relationship.

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