Theater review: “Everything is Established”

(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Cate Blouke.)

Part farce, part theater of the absurd, part ghost story, Hannah Kenah’s “Everything is Established,” playing now through Feb. 21 at the Off Center, will leave audiences both delighted and a little bit disturbed.

Anyone familiar with Kenah’s work, either as a company member of the Rude Mechanicals or from her devised work “Guest by Courtesy,” will recognize the artist’s signature intensity and humor in this show.

Jeffrey Mills, left, Michael Joplin, right, and Lee Eddy, front, start in “Everything Is Established.”

Produced by Physical Plant Theater and written and directed by Kenah, “Everything is Established” has a relatively simple premise: a wealthy megalomaniac with an enormous estate died before his mail-order bride arrived. Now, his two hapless and lonely servants await her arrival, desperately hoping she’ll stay and relieve the monotony.

With an outstanding ensemble of Austin’s comedic talent, the play explores the master-slave dialectic – probably in the sense of Hegelian philosophy, but that’s neither here nor there and certainly tangential to one’s enjoyment of the show.

What’s really important is that Jeffery Mills (Montgomery), Michael Joplin (Plaster), and Lee Eddy (Sally) are exceptional physical comedians and character actors, and together they form an unstoppable Juggernaut of hilarity.

Mills plays an adorably fastidious butler, whose charm shines through from the start (particularly in his awkward dancing at the top of the show). The poor Montgomery cares for his dimwitted compatriot, but he’s grown tired of letting the house fall to ruin and yearns for more stimulating companionship.

Eddy, as the baffled and blushing bride with nothing but a spatula to call her own, arrives in the midst of chaos and confusion, and she must try to make sense of the mess she’s walked herself into. Eddy’s shift into mastery over the staff and the situation is deftly accomplished, and her final moments in the spotlight are surprisingly sinister.

Joplin’s performance of an eye-bulging, manic agoraphobic footman holds traces of Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice and Heath Ledger’s Joker crossed with Zach Galifianakis’ sincere simpleton in “The Hangover.” As you might expect, that makes for a hilarious and frightening combination.

Not a moment is wasted in this one act performance.

Graham Reynolds’ music sets a deceptively upbeat tone to open the performance and the comic juxtapositions ensue from there. Even if the take-away is fuzzy, the delivery is thrilling.

“Everything is Established” continues 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Feb. 1.

Author: Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the arts critic for the Austin American-Statesman. She writes about visual art, theater, dance, music, performance, public art, architecture and just about any combination thereof.

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