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TODAY

Saturday, April 20

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Airbags

Watching the Defiant Theatre's production of "Action Movie: The Play," the phrase that keeps on repeating in your head is, "I could do that."

The truth is, you probably couldn't. You couldn't possibly get through a fight scene with wooden poles and a ten-foot aluminum ladder and make it look like something out of the movies. No, you couldn't. But what I found myself doing throughout the play was compare the scenes I was watching to truly classic moments from Hollywood action gems.

There are scenes inspired by car chases in "Lethal Weapon," evil underwater lairs in "Dr. No," wartime revenge plot premises from "Rambo," and sex-charged girl fights from pretty much any Bond film or gross-out comedy. When you watched those movies, you scoffed, you yelled back to the screen, you (loudly) counted the number of times you could see the wires beneath the space ship, and you thought yourself superior to the Hollywood machine.

What's really surprising about this production, is that you catch yourself making the same comments in your head that you would if you were watching an actual movie. That would be a million-dollar movie complete with computer-enhanced special effects, months of editing, and a power-house of technical consultants. But this is a play, and it keeps on reminding you of that fact. They don't have wires and smoke screens. They have stage crews in all black that hold up two fighters as they engage in a spinning combat sequence paying homage to "The Matrix." They have blanks in their guns that rattle on the floor, and when those run out, they have a guy in a booth with a synthesizer whose job it is to make all those "pow" and "smack" sounds when one person takes a swing at another. It's all there in front of you screaming, "illusion," and yet it pulls you right in. What's most amazing about this show is that, despite all this, you forget it's a show. You get sucked into the action and find yourself reliving all of your favorite moments, often in super slow motion.

The Defiant Theatre should be very good at putting on "Action Movie: The Play" since this is its third incarnation since the original show premiered in 1998. The current production, as well as the first, is a collaborative work from company members Joe Foust and Richard Ragsdale. While the set and plot are essentially the same as the 1998 show, this version offers updated humor (some Paris Hilton porn jokes) and some refreshingly unapologetic lack of political correctness. The over-the-top stereotypes, for example, are almost comforting. At first I tried to dissect the social implications of an overly amorous lesbian supervillian named Poison (Michele DiMaso), especially when the character couldn't stop groping her arch-enemy Cyborg Woman (Lisa Rothschiller) during their fight sequence. I was truly mulling over the post-colonial cultural ramifications of one of the play's few non-Caucasian characters named Kung Fu Guy (Andrew Amani) who stands stoically throughout the show -- that is until his deathbed flashback montage, where we watch him fly kites and go fishin' with the gang. Then I remembered it's all just a big parody, and proceeded to laugh heartily.

One of the few characters who reminds us of this fact is the always irreverent computer whiz kid Alec Smarty (Noah Simon), whose job, it seems, is to pull us out of the melodrama. During a lustful embrace between Cyborg Woman and her newfound love Stone Hardgod (John Maclay), Alec tries to smooch the only remaining character on stage, the ultra-serious cop Jack Jackson (Christopher Johnson) who keeps on killing his partners. The character of Alec Smarty is similar to our own minds, making jokes and trying to break down the flow of the situation while our own brains play catch up. We're the ones who'd love to shout out "Oh my god, that's the funky shit" when a disastrous virus escapes into the lab. And yes, we'd even like to have a little dance break in the middle of the crisis. Wouldn't we?

Take it as you like -- escapism, delusion, or a fun-filled night of entertainment -- but this show is good. As much as last year's audiences were drawn to action-packed, top-grossing movies like "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," "Terminator 3," "X2," "Bad Boys II" and even "The Matrix Reloaded" while real wars were being waged outside the theater, maybe we do need the ironically foiled villains and the sappy, happy endings every now and then. "Action Movie: The Play" is just another medium for those impulses. It's a brief break from reality, and one that reminds us of happier times. We all have fond memories of when Mel Gibson cried over poor Danny Glover's bleeding body in "Lethal Weapon," or when Mel Gibson cried over poor Rene Russo's bleeding body in "Lethal Weapon 4." These are the images that sustain us in line at the video store, and they should be what make you go out and see "Action Movie: The Play."

"Action Movie: The Play" runs until June 13 at The Chopin Theatre, located at 1543 W. Division. Tickets for Thursday and Sunday night shows are $15, and admission for Friday and Saturday night shows is $18. Tickets can be purchased at the theatre, on Ticketweb or through the www.defianttheatre.org. For more information, call 312/409-0585, or visit Defiant Theatre website.

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