Formed in 1996, and producing about four shows a year, Berkeley’s indigenous Impact Theater specializes in affordable original plays that speak to a younger generation that may have grown up on television, movies and music, without experiencing much live theater.
In keeping with this mission, Impact opened Friday at La Val’s Subterranean for a five-week run a decent grassroots production of Berkeleyan Zay Amsbury’s “The Wake-Up Crew” – a play about superheros that is part comic book story, part pro-wrestling smackdown, and part an expression of identity crisis among Berkeley youth.
Running about 70 minutes without an intermission, “The Wake-Up Crew” is about four Berkeley boys (Steven Klems, Christopher Morrison, Noah James Butler, and Elijah Berlow) who, upon graduation from UC Santa Cruz, turn into comic book-like superheros as the final upshot of a freaky acid experience.
The play then becomes a behind-the-scenes look at superheros and their infighting, as the boys battle alternately in alliance and in conflict with two senior female superheros (Cara Gilson and Sigal Shoham).
In its own Berkeley way, the play ponders the unhappy problem of young people growing up into an adult world that’s filled with unpleasantnesses.
There is a yearning in this story to go backwards in life to the memory of a happier and simpler time of childhood and friends, before there was work, and before there were romantic relationships.
Interestingly, in touching on these issues, “The Wake-Up Crew” expresses themes in common with “Itgirl,” a recent local production by Emerald Rain, another Berkeley-based theater that specializes in original work for a younger theater audience.
In “The Wake-Up Crew” there is also some child-of-divorce and mother-and-son stuff going on in the deeper subtexts.
The play is also about people waking up to the power of their real potential. And in the context of superheros – defenders of right and wrong – “The Wake-Up Crew” asks who is it who determines what is right and what is wrong.
Despite its action-oriented characters, however, “The Wake-Up Crew” is a talky script – particularly in the first half, where much of the backstory set-up of what has transpired, and what people think of it, is explained expositionally in detail.
There are also many accounts of past off-stage events and actions that turn the plot of the story. Generally, playwrights are encouraged to steer away from giving accounts of action that has taken place off-stage, and are encouraged, rather, to show the action on-stage.
Characters in “The Wake-Up Call” also tend to give each other didactic lectures on how things are in the world, and what they should and shouldn’t do.
Director Josh Costello and fight choreographer Christopher Morrison have created a number of lively physical brawling and stage fighting scenes – sort of like a pro-wrestling smackdown – although the non-fighting scenes are sometimes oddly static.
Actors Klems and Morrison are the most successful at bringing real emotional centers to their characters that allow them to connect believably to others.
Sound designer annaconda has provided pulsing music for the fight scenes, and other-worldly sound effects appropriately to punctuate unusual moments in the story.
Set designer Chris Hammer’s terrific dingy student apartment living room is wrecked in the course of the play’s fighting.
Kids who grew up in Berkeley as children of 1960s baby boomers lived in a unique and strange world, and this world is reflected in “The Wake-Up Crew.”
“The Wake-Up Crew” plays Friday and Saturday, through June 3, at La Val’s Subterranean Theater, 1834 Euclid Ave. (at Hearst). In keeping with Impact’s mission to produce affordable theater for its generation, admission is $5 (students and Theater Bay Area members) and $10 (general).
For information and reservations, call 510-464-4468. Or check out Impact’s web site (www.impacttheatre.com).