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Republican presidential candidates notwithstanding, it is safe to say that it is a helluva lot of fun to laugh at the ridiculousness of widely televised events. If you sit back and try to explain any sport (or opera for that matter) to someone unfamiliar with it, the realization of how ridiculous it is may come to you more quickly than you would like. Now, try to explain NASCAR to someone from the North who has maybe never seen a race. A bit ridiculous, right?
Triad Stage's first offering of 2016 is a laugh-out-loud comedy that may, to some, seem a bit ridiculous. Billed as a "NASComedy," VROOOMMM! places six female actors in over 20 different roles – including men and mobster chickens – following the events that occur when female driver Holly "Legs" Nelson (the stunning Eliza Huberth) enters the male-dominated race...and keeps on winning.
She seems a bit too smart for her britches, according to the men (as stated above, played by the female cast). So smart in fact, that it's kind of sexy to Kenny "Hotshot" Kane 3rd (a vocally diverse Courtney Moore), who won't sacrifice his chance at winning just for a girl. Meanwhile, Chip "Chip" Kowalsky (Amy Hamel) is recruited by Colonel Cluckers' Chicken to be their new racing sponsor, usurping the coveted sponsor from racing veteran, and HotShot's father, Kenneth "Rocky" Kane (the always wonderful Amy da Luz). The only person who remotely understands Holly is Charlie "Sly" Fox (UNCSA's Emma Kikue), who may have a secret or two of his own. In addition, a mysterious Special Guest Star appears to say a word or two to the racers (a subtle Denise Lute).
The cast goes back-and-forth from the racers, to sportscasters, to the fans in the stands, back to the racers, to the barflies, and back to the racers, all at a breakneck speed. It's exhilarating to feel such a level of energy not found in very many new works. Playwright Janet Allard's work is episodic in structure, but director David Karl Lee does not let the energy drop during the many transitions between episodes. In fact, the transitions make the play all the more exciting to watch.
Speaking of exciting, the way Lee has staged the car races and subsequent wrecks is such an incredibly creative concept that I dare not spoil the surprise; it must be seen to be believed.
Allard has written a play that is so dizzyingly funny and original in its concept, structure, and wordplay that it lends itself to the best aspects of ridiculous theatre from start to finish. This success is elevated by Lee's knack for comedic direction that harkens back to the best of National Lampoon, Mel Brooks, and W.C. Fields. Put all of this on Bert Scott's eye-popping racetrack set and in Andja Budincich's detailed costumes, and you have yourself a rare night of non-stop, original theatre.
For Triad Stage, VROOOMMM! is a huge step forward in presenting new work in addition to Artistic Director Preston Lane's original works (such as the upcoming Radiunt Abundant – also featuring a all-female cast). It's interesting to compare VROOOMMM! with Lane's Common Enemy from last season, another play dealing with multiple characters examining a sport. Each play strips down its respective sport to its center, allowing the audience to scoff (or in this case, laugh) at the fanatical obsession we have with these sports. In the end, though, it's about enjoying yourself, and that is exactly what you will do at VROOOMMM!
VROOOMMM! continues through February 7 at the Hanesbrand Theater in downtown Winston Salem. Please see the sidebar for more details.