theater criticism | EXIT Theater presents two remarkable one-man performances – Times-Standard

It’s about time Humboldt County audiences discovered what’s going on at Arcata’s newest (and most intimate) venue: the EXIT Theatre.

Located at 890 G St., it is accessed via a long, steep stairway to the second floor of an old building directly overlooking Arcata Plaza.

And in that way, it closely resembles the downtown Eureka location where the late playwright Sue Bigelow Marsh’s Plays-In-Progress theater, which features only new works, was once (regrettably long-closed). The limited seating was on the top floor of another old building that still houses the Lost Coast Brewery as the main business occupant on the ground floor. And it could only be reached by intrepid spectators who braved an equally steep flight of stairs to see the eclectic pieces on offer there. But the climb has always been worth it.

And if the recent performances by two brilliant actors/performers of their individual one-man works at the EXIT Theater are any indication of the innovative, artistic quality of the material staged there, then prepare to make it a point for the rise and experience what other featured artists have to offer.

However, let me tell you what Creekside Arts’ gifted, veteran performers Ryan McCutchan and Larry Crist (both directed by John Heckel) did to woo their EXIT audience on the opening night of their three-show weekend last Friday hypnotize.

Their performances began after a warm welcome (and discussions with) those in attendance by EXIT Theater Artistic Director Christina Augello, who has been a San Francisco resident since its inception in 1983.

According to her, the stage area lighting was checked on the floor and then set up with the three stools McCutchan would use during his 30-minute first half of the entirely different, artistically-divided event. Titled “The Poets’ Mead,” he proved to be an outrageously funny, verbally complex, and physically over-the-top storyteller of his take on how the legendary gods (including Odin) turned themselves into poets by making a “Poets’ Mead.” “ drank. special” mead that they “helped create”.

McCutchan explained everything while happily sharing impressively ridiculous and tongue-twisting names and locations. Instantly physically switching characters (and sides), using “facial gymnastics” and different voices to engage in conversations (often hilariously gross in subject and description), while either expertly balancing on his three stools or using them as props to elevate his… to support nonsensical narrative.

And the mead in the title? I’ll just tell you that the “magical ingredients” that the gods kept adding to the mead they created contained a questionable combination of blood and saliva that needed constant replenishment to stay strong.

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Ryan McCutchan is seen during a performance of The Mead of the Poets at the EXIT Theater. (Creekside Arts photo)

And (for no apparent logical reason) gave those who drank it the gift of becoming poets. If this all sounds too gross to be funny, in

McCutchan’s comedic performances (and despite the “eeew factor”), he was consistently rewarded with laugh-out-loud reactions from the audience. It takes a true artist to be cheerfully aggressive and endearing at the same time. But he did.

After a brief pause, during which Crist set up a pair of non-working, old TVs on either side of the stage — and one that was plugged in, centered on the bottom edge of its playing surface with its “white noise” and “Sound.” test pattern on the screen. This ubiquitous sound underscores his original 30-minute work, TV: The Lost Years.

His content was also visually enhanced with black and white images he drew of instantly recognizable famous early television actors, film personalities, or iconic political and/or civic icons whose life and/or death and significant events were shared on the home screens of the nation from the 1950s.

And Crist honestly, bravely — sometimes bitterly — but always (kind of) vulnerable and poignant, shared how they had all impacted his life. At a distance, yet so close to him, in the “reality” of their “invited presence” in those mysterious boxes that his family watched together – and then didn’t drive apart forever after a divorce, the young, rural child, to live far from fields, and dog (and father) to live with his remaining “family” in a place paved with an indifferent concrete environment.

Crist is heartbreakingly adept at seamlessly weaving his personal narrative and moments of truth and pain into an intriguing blend of profound spoken word descriptions and poetic rhythms and rhymes.

Vividly articulated, with an undertone of wry humor, he takes you along as he recounts some of the challenges he faced (and had to overcome) throughout his life’s journey.

And eventually, like all of us, had to accept this fact: No matter how much “health, wealth, and happiness” those early T shows promised us, sometimes it doesn’t always come out that way.

However, when you are a persistent, gifted artist like Larry Crist, you eventually realize that there is a need to finally acknowledge the life experiences that shaped “who you were” into the “actor/poet that you are.”

And then (inspired by the gods of poetry of the past) dare to share the words of your “lost years” on stage where they can resonate with others. (As in the EXIT Theater.)

Let’s just hope that both Crist and McCutchan bring their equally innovative one-man shows (collectively called their Greenhouse Performance) and produced by Creekside Arts to a much larger audience at many more venues throughout Humboldt County. If they do, be sure and make it your business to see them. They are definitely among the best of 2022!

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