The Inconvenience at Angel Island. By Penn Jillette and Steven Banks. Directed by Shade Murray. With Mary Williamson, Chris Chmelik. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
Melinda (Mary Williamson) is a rock & roll fangirl who tapes a video love letter to the lead singer of her favorite hair metal band, Ümlaut, and mails it off to him. In this first scene, she's playing a role: wearing her tightest red dress and a vampy wig, swigging Champagne from the bottle and eventually stripping for the camera—all the things she thinks would get the attention of rock star Kevin.
Soon Melinda's taping another video, this time minus the wig and other accoutrements. It seems she actually received a reply to her first video, one that's prompted her to be more herself in response. After seeing three tapings of the exchange from Melinda's side, the bait-and-switch is revealed: Her correspondent hasn't been Kevin, but Carl (Chris Chmelik), Kevin's nervous, nerdy assistant, who saw in Melinda something his boss laughed past.
This 2005 play, co-written by Penn Jillette, of Penn and Teller, and comedian Steven Banks, known for writing for SpongeBob SquarePants, threatens to get suffocated by its initial gimmick—not just that the two characters are speaking to each other by videotape, but that they find their camera operators from the audience, addressing their picks in character as the friends they've asked to help make their tapes. (Don't worry if you're not into being pulled onstage; those willing to participate are given red bandanas to wear so the actors know who's game.)
The first time Melinda's doorbell rings and she steps into the audience to see who's there, it's an unexpected jolt of chaos energy. And since we can see the live feed of what they're recording as well as what Williamson and Chmelik are doing live, the audience members' choices—where to point the camera, when to zoom in and out—really affect the action. But by the fourth time, the conceit begins to feel like a crutch.
Luckily, real-life couple Williamson and Chmelik are never less than honest and achingly vulnerable in their creation of these two lonely misfits finding a long-distance connection. And though they're the only two actors onstage, Shade Murray's smartly staged production features over a dozen more in its very funny onscreen interstitials of classic Ümlaut music videos and Behind the Music–style retrospectives. In the Inconvenience's Chicago premiere, Love Tapes is a scrappy, sexy night of BYOB theater.