The city of Excalibur is mourning a hero — and not just any hero: the super kind. Local news anchors choke back tears as they air archival footage of the fallen Captain Piledriver (Rob Barron), the most powerful and prominent of the city’s superhero league.
The title character of the Overtime Theater’s The Life and Death of Captain Piledriver could have been the bastard brother of just about any Will Ferrell character. Piledriver’s manner was overly confident, his red-spandex-coated body was rough around the edges, and his speech was riddled with unintended double entendres (unintendres, if you will.) On the subject of Excalibur City, the do-gooder once said, “Every inch of me is glad to be inside it.”
So self-absorbed was the crusader that he even had the foresight to film his own eulogy. And by “eulogy,” I mean a spoken-word rendition of Wilson Phillips’s “Hold On.” Fellow superheroes Cobalt Girl (Cynthia Davila), the Human Shield (Cary Farrow), Queen Gladitoria (Amanda Bianchi), the Cougar (Liz Vermeulen), and Captain Obvious (Scott McDowell) don’t seem completely surprised by this display at the funeral ceremony. They are more taken aback by the absence of James (Dru Barcus), a meek computer technician who shared a secret relationship with Captain Piledriver.
It’s not what you’re thinking. By day, James was a code monkey and Piledriver’s BFF, but come dark he was the Captain’s archenemy, the Midnight Fiend. Piledriver’s repeated defeats of the infamous villain (recounted via video projection) made the Captain beloved by the community. However, unlike the heroes, James has no supernatural powers, just a preternatural gift for gadgetry and a penchant for doing a little evil while wearing goggles and a trenchcoat. With fiends like these, who needs enemies?
Well, let me not speak too soon, for James has always had a boner for Piledriver’s raven-haired ladyfriend, Cobalt Girl, aka Karen. But rather than using his alter ego’s wildly effective porn gun to bring her to toe-curling submission, he’s only interested in wooing the grieving Girl as James, the too-thoughtful geek with popping blowfish eyes and a bad case of emotional diarrhea.
Playwright-actor McDowell’s team of heroes don’t respond to Piledriver’s mysterious death with the kind of graveness Alan Moore’s Watchmen would have. (And thank God.) Though a dark presence lurks in the background, the league isn’t eager to get to the bottom of anything; the Captain’s death was simply a hazard of the job. What is on their minds — at least for the male contingent, privy to James’s double-life — is encouraging a James-Cobalt Girl coupling.
With this plotline, The Life and Death of the Amazing Captain Piledriver settles into a sitcom-like tone. This is McDowell’s answer to the question of how to bring the larger-than-life to the stage, an approach that sometimes flies, and sometimes dive-bombs. For example, when Karen invites James out for a coffee date, he wears an earpiece so the equally maladroit Human Shield and Captain Obvious can talk him through from their vantage point at another table in the cafe. Though the performers have a deft sense of timing and a knack for physical humor, that old set-up’s never worked out well, and McDowell’s script assumes enough pop-culture hipness from the audience — Tim Burton and Battlestar jokes, ahoy — to make one wonder why he would lowball like that.
Nevertheless, McDowell has a gift for genre, as evidenced in the Overtime’s recent production of his stage-noir The Hard Bargain, and it’s refreshing to watch a comic-book-inspired narrative that’s actually pretty comical. Clever old-school groaners like “Sorry Barista Girl, didn’t mean to get you steamed” abound and James’s frienemy status makes for a giddily complex dynamic among the male heroes, who oscillate between growling at one another and throwing their heads back with laughter (and repeat).
The superwomen have their fun, too, though far more fiercely than their male counterparts. When they aren’t fighting crime, the butch-sexy Gladitoria and sexy-sexy Cougar are taunting their friend Karen about her new crush (and also helpless men, of course).
All are at the top of their game during the show’s slapstick and action sequences, which are engagingly staged by director Lupe Flores and performed with over-the-top vigor and physicality by the actors. Every inch of this critic was pleased to be in a theater where characters burst through walls, attacked in slow motion, and hummed their own theme music. •
The Life and Death of Captain Piledriver
Through Jun 5
The Overtime Theater