As director Steven Samuels said to members of the audience on the official opening night of American Arcade, or How to Shoot Yourself in the Face, “It’s a wild ride.” The explosive, exciting and hard-to-explain production is onstage at The Magnetic Theatre through Saturday, July 1.
The show revolves around the deteriorating mental state of Harry Hunter (performed with twitchy intensity by Cody Magouirk), who has inherited the family business. American Arcade Co. (AAC, or “ack,” as it’s referred to) makes arcade shooting games and, due to the ineptitude of Repairman Dan — who infiltrates the narrative, though is never seen — is failing. Embattled Harry must figure out how to save the business while being harassed by his spendthrift mother (a boozy, hilarious Jane Hallstrom), chilly wife Theodora (a coolly lethal Tippin) and impetuous daughter (a pouty, catty Sophia Mosby).
Meanwhile, Harry is visited by the ghost of his father — a racist, misogynist bully who died 15 years earlier in an apparent suicide. But despite the elder Hunter’s rude goading (he’s played by Darren Marshall, who, though his role is largely offstage, creates a pervasive presence), Harry still respects the memory and advice of his father. Tension mounts as Harry struggles between staying true to his father’s plan for the company and the real need to update AAC.
Harry’s secretary Veronica (a pin-up portrayal by Elizabeth Evans) and her fiancé Frankie (played by Dakota Mann, whose Boy Scout of a character later reveals he’s “a very light-skinned” African-American, adding another layer of complication to the storyline) have a lot of ideas to modernize AAC.
But the story is only a loose framework for the bombast, physical comedy, theatrical high-wire act and over-the-top humor. The play’s alternative subtitle is “An outrage in two acts,” and that points to the melee of onstage antics. Magouirk’s amped-up and exhaustive performance is central to that, swerving from manic to despondent; from hopeful to frantic. But there’s also an undeniable onstage chemistry between Magouirk and Samuels, who plays romantic-mobster-with-an-agenda Anthony Little. The shared moments between Anthony and Harry are barely controlled chaos — highly charged and hugely fun. That teaming requires the quieter characters — smarmy Franklin, frigid Theodora — for balance.
The other actors have their comedic and dramatic moments, too, mainly in the scenes where they converse within Harry’s head. This is cleverly executed through a series of photo frames on the set wall (designed by Kirstin Leigh Daniel with carpentry by Erik Moellering) that slide open, revealing only the character’s talking heads. Thoughtful lighting (Jason Williams) furthers the effect. The internal dialogues are bawdy and controversial, toeing the line between saucy and tasteless (racism, sexual dysfunction, incest). Some jokes fall better than others, but this is a production that plays fast and loose, taking risks and pushing boundaries.
And there are moments of such irreverent joy — a tribute to Little Anthony and the Imperials, an innovative set mechanism for therapist Dr. Frechette’s office (that role is given a malevolent twist by Terry Darakjy), the choreographed curtain call — that the risks are ultimately justified.
WHAT: American Arcade or How to Shoot Yourself in the Face
WHERE: The Magnetic Theatre, 375 Depot St., themagnetictheatre.org
WHEN: Through Saturday, July 1. Thursday-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. $16