1-800-Mice – A Better Mousetrap
A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
Some real talk: me and Achilles Feels were a little, tiny bit tipsy as we headed out to Annex’s 1-800-Mice the day after Thanksgiving (don’t judge us, we had just come from a coven meeting with our sister, Pandora Locks). Honestly, though, it was probably appropriate, because Mice, based on the comics of Matthew Thurber and adapted by Carly J. Bales and Sarah Jacklin, was like drinking a fifth of Nyquil and then having a surreal dream from which you wake sweating and shaking your head. Trying to make absolute sense of it, especially if you aren’t familiar with the source material, is an exercise in futility. You’ve kind of just got to let that shit go and jump on for the ride.
Mice dumps us into the fascinating world of Volcano Park, a noirish place populated by evolved animals, sentient trees (obvs the overlords) and warring, villainous factions. Our heroes, such as they are, are the mice Groomfiend (an adorable Nina Kearin) and Peace Punk (equally adorable Jacob Zabawa). It’s a joyfully complicated story, weaving in various oblique subplots including an ominous comet hurtling towards the earth, sort of snotty home-made punk compilation tapes, the L.A. Shogun (Alexander Scalley), a three-headed sushi chef (Dave Iden), fucking ducks, corrupt police, druuuuugs, a mad-scientist-like character called Dr. Vial (also Zabawa), dandy gangs (YES), and lots, lots, more.
What Jacklin (who also directed) manages very, very well, is keeping the cast totally committed to the madness while also moving the discrete pieces of the story towards coherency. Each of the actors plays a dizzying myriad of characters, but the choice is not muddy or sloppy, it’s fun and well-executed (and if it weren’t, there would literally be no fucking way to follow it). The show feels like a graphic novel, and that has to do with the excellent tech (more on this in a second) and also with the way that the actors speak and move. They often seem to be defined in small spaces on the stage, a trick which nicely suggests the defined limits of the comic panel. They turn full front to speak, their eyes wide and bulging (especially Carly Bales, in her hilarious turn as the wicked Aunty Lakeford). There’s a pleasing, funny, ballsy, blurriness about the entire endeavor, exemplified by a note in the program that reads “You’ll notice that our cast of 8 actors rapidly reappear to play may different roles. Some have forgotten who they are, and some are in disguise.” Annex is often like this; they don’t care if you “get it,” necessarily, they just want you to revel in the weirdness, to smile in the dark.
Here’s Achilles Feels’ words on the tech: “Annex always puts on a pretty show, and Mice has welcome shades of the visualgasm that was last-season’s Flatland. The set (Rick Gerriets and Daniel Marks), while simple, is effective, a multi-level corner set-up in a nondescript city location. It could be Urbania, it could be the middle of the Forbidden Forest. The ambiguity works for this type of ephemeral theatrical adaption. I like Annex’s set choices, generally: they do what they can, well, and thoughtfully. The technical star, though, are costumes by Nicolette Le Faye. Not a single detail was out of place. Cute mice ears for the, duh, mice, well-placed corsets, skinny jeans. It’s an eclectic period mishmash, and it rocks. Lighting by Evan Moritz was great. Beautifully supported moods, wonderful contrast, flattering colors, all used to support the story. I would have liked if the sound design (David Crandall) was a little more lush, but that could have been an intentional choice to leave more space for the dialogue.”
BOTTOM LINE: 1-800-Mice is a gleeful, surreal romp through the streets of a dystopian society that might be pretty fucked, but also feels pretty familiar. Tight direction, gung-ho acting and beautiful tech makes this a risk that pays off nice.
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