The Cal Poly Theatre Department is putting on a show, a not-to-be-missed affair featuring kadoodles, kipping, plicking, rackaroo, a return to the boom-boom days, and a set of breasts big enough to make a Playboy centerfold blush. The man behind the madness—theater professor Al Schnupp—wrote and is directing the play, titled Zero To Infinity.
The 75-minute play features a cast of 10, half of whom are charged with performing between five and seven roles. The script has seen at least five revisions since Schnupp completed the original version six years ago. The Living Theatre in New York City did a reading of the play last year, inspiring Schnupp to schedule a full-scale production at Cal Poly Nov. 12 to 21.
“I’ve always been interested in politics and following the elections,” admitted Schnupp, describing his inspiration for the political satire. “This play certainly came out of all the bizarreness of the last administration. I love absurdist plays. And I find a lot of life absurd.”
His evidence of life’s absurdity?
“The sexiest man alive is always a Caucasian movie star. Don’t you think, for once, the sexiest man alive is a Japanese farmer?”
Schnupp drew inspiration from Ubu Roi, a play written in the late 19th century by Alfred Jarry. Like Jarry’s title character, Schnupp’s protagonist, Zero (Max Sopkin)—the dictionary definition of antihero—makes a play for political power. His political credentials? He’s the richest man in Groad—Schnupp’s fictional America.
Aided, or rather driven by, his wife Maxie (played forcefully by Ashleigh Droz) Zero mounts a campaign to be boinker of Groad. That is, Horace (Kyle McCurdy), Zero’s showman of a campaign manager, calls the necessary shots and gives Zero the necessary sound bytes—“If elected, I will lock up the boogeyman”—to run for office.
The production’s sets and costumes are grandiose and circus-like, with gilded paintings of trapeze artists and circus freaks and a concession stand sitting off to the side of the stage. Individual quirks and ticks are magnified by grotesque physical appendages and disorders. Zero’s girth is magnificent, and a frequent topic of conversation. Horace swaggers about the stage a good two feet above everyone else, courtesy of stilts. The merest trifle of subtlety or reason is conspicuously absent.
Schnupp even took liberties with language; about 20 percent of the dialogue is comprised of words that he outright made up. Somehow that doesn’t divest words altogether of meaning; it is left to the performers to imbue significance in words like lurcher and boinker. Zero, as the character the least possessed of sense, has perhaps the most gobblygook words.
“You want me to slip my orvacious bacon in that locker bag,” he cries out, in horror, during his makeover at Shimmer Clinic. Schnupp insists that it wasn’t difficult creating new words for his play. Often, he’d sit at his computer and simply make sounds until he struck a likely candidate.
Even after rehearsals began, Schnupp’s task as writer was far from over. Since the play has gone into rehearsal, Schnupp estimates that he outright cut about 20 percent of the play, and drastically re-wrote another 20 percent.
“From day one I said, ‘Nothing I wrote is precious.’ I want to keep it moving, A to B to C. I prefer brevity. If you can say it quickly and succinctly, do it,” said Schnupp.
Opposing the ambitious trio of social climbers—Maxie, Zero, and Horace—are Inspector Oodles (Ryan Joseph Austin) and his assistant Minnie (Melanie Marshall). Oodles was inspired by Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther series. In every scene he, and his faithful assistant, assume a different identity. One moment he is a French sculptor, the next a cheerleader for the Ratchet party, always in hot pursuit of evidence linking Zero to his father’s death. Austin and Marshall might belong to the half of the cast with a single identity, but they change accents and assume new identities so often they might as well be playing multiple roles. They employ a vast and whacky assortment of tricks and tools, from truth serums to snakes nestled into tubas.
The secondary characters are no less overwhelming figures, from a gaggle of rich and corrupt mourners at a funeral to beauty and lifestyle practitioners at the Shimmer Clinic. Their voices, appearance, and movements are exaggerated to such a degree that they more closely resemble drones or marionettes than human beings. Schnupp insists, and it’s evident from watching the play, that he let himself have fun with the minor characters. Perhaps the most overbearing of these is a woman paraded as the average Groadian—the unholy incarnation of a soccer mom, drone, and beauty queen. Wearing a sash and clinging to a bouquet, she paints a verbal picture of her life—2.4 children, each of which she taught to fire a gun; half a dozen television sets which her family watches half a dozen hours per day every day; Sunday jaunts to church; debt closing in on her family; a husband she plans to divorce.
The allusion to the quintessential American lifestyle is thinly veiled; children are not children, but one of Schnupp’s invented words. The same for guns and televisions. But the message is clear, delivered as a recitation by Shelby Lewis who must expend gigawatts of energy in this show, alternating between Greedo, Fay, Miss Groad, Berta, Lili, Appalling, and Claudia.
Schnupp’s protagonist might stand for zero equality and zero justice, but his play embodies excess—excess energy, excess color, excess political commentary. It may overwhelm audiences who favor some down time during a play, or a dash of serene sanity mixed in with their absurdism. But it’s plummy theater nonetheless, to borrow a phrase from the performance. And a kipping good time. ∆
Arts Editor Ashley Schwellenbach is a kip doodler of the first order. Send ding dongs and
ho hos to firstname.lastname@example.org.