Woah [by Matt Baker]
Most of the actors in Keanu Reeves Saves The Universe have an adequate understanding of performing on stage, but it feels as if New York based writer/director Rob Reese has given this New Zealand troupe a specific blueprint by which they have to perform his off-off-Broadway show – ironic, considering his work as an improv instructor. Show Bible’s are common in large-scale productions that tour internationally, but for a show of this size and calibre, it is detrimental to actors. Add to this an illogical plot and a dissonance in the American style of comedy with the New Zealand sense of humour, and one could conclude that perhaps Keanu Reeves himself would have done a better job at the helm.
Bennett Conran is certainly the closest person I am aware of in Auckland who looks like Keanu Reeves, which is a shame when considering the lack of bass in his voice, his precarious American accent, and energetic physicality. It’s also odd that his Mark Hamill impression is better than Keanu Reeves impersonation.
At one point, Sateki Finau-Baas mentions the ‘resonance of [his] consonants’, which is ironic considering his lack of articulation. Natalie Beran has the right level of command to play Captain Angela, but her overall performance is a paint-by-numbers “Yes, director”, “No, director” presentation devoid of any individuality she might have brought to the character.
Aimee Gestro certainly finds the allurement of her character both physically and vocally, and is one of the few actors who are able to incorporate the style of the production into her performance. Likewise, Jim Cawthorn is able to find the right energy and timing for his delivery, and pitches his performance at a level that somehow manages to blend Reese’s script and direction with an attitude that a New Zealand audience can recognise.
Ida Barklund manages to make some sense of the plot, Barry Duffield is almost completely inaudible behind his mask, and David Mackie gives momentary relief as Lana Wachoski, with a clear theatrical voice and character drive that pushes through his otherwise ridiculous scene.
Beren Allen’s lighting design is restricted by the necessity for blackouts, and although Troy Garton’s costumes are impressive, I’m unsure from where the reasoning for Dark Hater’s Spartacus/Jason Vorhees blend came. And why the hell did “Brick House” by the Commodores play?
Parody is not easy. It is not simply about copying something from a particular film or genre. It’s about incorporating it into the world of the play where the qualities of it are highlighted as being either completely out of place, or entirely normal. The former is usually balanced by having at least one character aware of the absurdity of the social interactions of the characters and the illogicality of the world at some level, the latter uses the audience. Cassie Baker’s Lt. Obvious is the perfect vehicle for this, but, once again, the actor has been limited by the director and passes everything off as blasé, resulting in anunclear mix between these two styles.
Reese’s ‘jokes’ are not funny. They are not clever. They are not commentaries on the subject matter’s or genres he is addressing. The character’s names are the sort of wordplays that you expect from primary school students. There’s a reason this show was performed off-off-Broadway in New York.
Keanu Reeves Saves The Universe is presented by Mercury Jane Productions and plays at The Basement until July 20. Details see iticket