You can’t judge a geek by its cover. Can’t even do it – especially not in 2014, when nattier wardrobes and society’s ill-conceived PC craze have replaced the geekoid accouterments of yore, like pocket protectors, suspenders and Coke-bottle glasses. Only when they open their mouths do geeks betray their place in the mainstream. They sort of look the mainstream part, and they’re probably pretty nice, but they somehow come off like woolly mammoths in a herd of really smart African elephants – close, but no enchilada.
Even so, the geek take on love, rejection and reconciliation is positively indistinguishable from yours. You’ll see as much at Geeks! The Musical!, this year’s Comic-Con-appropriate entry, staged at ion theatre company’s [email protected]&Penn. What should be a fun time at an iconic popular-arts convention turns into a funny affair of the heart, and this cast’s easy sense of ensemble (if not always its sense of pitch or logistics) fuels a zany show high on tempo and energy.
Not oddly enough, the setting is San Diego’s Comic-Con, world’s largest comic-book convention and the city’s biggest annual real-life box-office take (it makes more than $160 million over a single weekend). The geeks, of course, are oblivious to the money part of it – nerdy Jordan will stop at nothing to find an issue of Batman No. 92, while friend Chip espouses the landmark repercussions of (and his own life-altering obsession with) Dr. Who. Romance comes to call as Jordan runs into Kerry, one of the very few women at Comic-Con – and busybody Chip finds himself turning Kerry’s friend Emerson’s head so Jordan can make his move.
Layers of miscues have Jordan believing that sci-fi actor Mel Tyler, his childhood hero, has stolen Kerry’s affections. The battle is on, even as sexual confusion fuels it (Goth girl Audrina and bi Trey are at wits’ end as they ply their ideas for an avant-garde comic).
It all comes out in the cosmic geek wash, and everybody’s friends in the end, just like on un-geek turf. In fact, playwright and self-proclaimed geek Thomas Misuraca penned it with just such a uniform message – that authenticity to oneself, and all society be damned, will lead to social acceptance and, maybe, romance.
Geeks are in part driven by an inner perfectionist – and every so often, he/she’s off in intent. Pete Hoban makes a very good, earnest Jordan, but his wayward pitch detracts enough from his character that it’s worthy of mention. As Audrina, Lorina Alfaro has taken on an intriguing blank stare, but Misuraca and directors Patrick Gates and Lizzie Morse have drawn the character as more grave than geeky. And Devon Hollingsworth is good but highly underused as the Comic-Con Queen, as is Dakota Ringer as the Comic-Con King.
But oh, for James P. Darvas as Kerry’s friend Emerson! Emerson, whose wholesale snobbery is exceeded only by his gayness, is absolutely perfect in Darvas’ hands – the actor touches each character’s life with nuances particular to that character, and he turns Emerson’s histrionics on a dime amid his come-uppance at the end (a very difficult thing to do).
Franklin DeBerg has a nice sense of dialogue as Chip; M. Keala Milles looks the part as iconoclastic, angry Trey; San Diego favorite Ed Hollingsworth carries Tyler with an interesting youthfulness; and Sarah LeClair’s Kerry has a disarming lilt to her vocals and an absolutely killer smile. This cast and tech crew convey its message in an entirely user-friendly way, without too much this and not enough that. With these performers, the piece is what it is, and it’s certainly enough.
The Tenth Avenue Theatre might have been a more logistical venue choice for producer PsyPhi Productions, as it’s closer to the Comic-Con action at the San Diego Convention Center (Comic-Con runs from July 23 to 27 this year), but ion’s seating is much more intimate, and its production staff will take perfectly good care of the patrons. By all means, please see the rollicking Geeks! The Musical!, and eat up the moral about self-truth, even as it’s active at every level of the geekosphere.
This review is based on the evening performance of July 5. Geeks! The Musical! runs through August 16 at BLKBOX @ 6th&Penn, 3704 Sixth Ave. in Hillcrest. $15-$25. iontheatre.com, 619-600-5020, ext. 10.