Simple Machines

The self-indulgently titled machines machines machines machines machines machines machines is knowingly dim-witted and absurd, but not “deeply profound,” as billed by its creators, rainpan 43. Within 75 minutes, I strenuously fought at least two nearly overwhelming urges to leave the theater. The only thing going for machines… is the maze of clever and sometimes astonishing contraptions that envelop the stage. Ropes, strings, wheels, bowling balls, boxing gloves, and any number of pulleys are employed so that the characters can, with less than aplomb, do things that could be done more simply by just getting up: cooking an egg, for instance, becomes an embarrassingly difficult exercise with a 10-foot long spatula.

“Phineas,” “Liam,” and someone Phineas calls “Your lordship” could pass for three ultra-nerdy college students on the 10-year plan, suffering from severe cases of cannabis-induced paranoia. With far too much time on their hands, even cooking breakfast becomes an excursion into silliness. Coffee is called “black effluvium,” and an egg is a manna-like “ovum” bestowed from a “benevolent goose;” looking into a refrigerator is a gaze into “icy regions.”

machines… is a hybrid of a poor man’s Blue Man Group and one long, bad, Monty Python skit that tries way too hard to please. Liam (Trey Lyford) wears a mechanized mask that makes all of his verbal communications sound like radio dispatches. Like Michael Winslow in Police Academy, he is dubiously gifted with the ability to make all kinds of annoying mechanical noises with his mouth. Phineas (Geoff Sobelle) sports a kilt and World War I pilot’s goggles. The third (Quinn Bauriedel), who we learn is the “Chief Commander,” sounds like a cross between George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Stewart at his dopiest.

Of course, with machines made from rubber bands and boxing gloves, inevitable breakdowns occur. The actors are more than willing and able to ad lib as they struggle to retrieve an egg or use their contraptions to return a bottle of orange juice to an icebox. On the night I saw the production, the egg fell to the floor, and the audience let out a giant, thrilled sigh of frustration.

As if unable to tell their Dungeons and Dragons game from reality, the characters have constructed a hermetically sealed and alarmed world where they gird for an eventual fight against some unseen enemy. Needing to “fortify” themselves for the long battle ahead, they decide to, for instance, eat some cereal and bananas. Of course, if they just got up and got it themselves, there would be no reason for this show. So, with the help of some ropes and chutes, they inexpertly pour their Cheerios from the top regions of the stage into bowls at their table. Crazy, man!

The real stars of this production are machine designers Steven and Billy Blaise Dufala, Technical Director Derek Cook and Marlon Hurt, the Master Electrician. Creating a stage-world of working contraptions and low-tech gadgets is not easy, and their creativity is often staggering. Yet, the performers, left to their…fail to do anything with this world other than weave a trite story around it. machines… would be quite fascinating in a college talent show, and it would probably win. But, I expect more from productions at HERE.

At one point the characters realize that their unseen “enemy” is among them. Phineas interrogates the Chief Commander with a torture machine made from wires and clothespins. The Chief Commander winced as the pins were clamped on his lips and ears. He really did look like he was in pain, perhaps almost as much as I was.

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