Author: Jenny Magnus
At: Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston Ave. Tickets: $15 or PWYC, curioustheatrebranch.com . Runs through: Oct. 6
Not Another Day doesn't have a plot. This sounds like it could be a bad thing.
What it has instead is a premiseone that longtime soap opera fixture, actor Bobby Jinx ( Beau O'Reilly ), is refusing to leave his sitcom in its final days. The Writer, a burnt-out LaCroix-chugging Vicki Walden, desperately wants to end her show, aptly called Not Another Day. But the implacable Jinx just won't go. Take after take after take, he literally refuses to leave his onstage coffin, causing the cast to strain, squirm and then finally disintegrate into unprofessional ruin. So no plot, yes, but lots and lots of problems solving, rising action and denouement. You won't miss the plot.
Jenny Magnusan enormously talented writer, director and performerhit upon this show's conceit 10 years ago, but wasn't sure how to execute it. With its rigorous, usually unrhymed spoken songs buoyed by pulsating swirl of sounds, Not Another Day is classic Magnus. Her metaphors are extended; they become visual, visceral and tactile, and can trigger a deep, almost nonverbal emotional sensation. What makes Not Another Day unique is that usually Magnus is the thick of her crewtheir equal despite their embodiment of her words. She remains offstage for this show. No matter: She is clearly still there, while others keep doing that voodoo she does so well.
The staging of these two worlds is ingeniously simple. There is a writer at a writing desk who occasionally gets up and paces around or spins in an office chair. A crew in uniform scurries to attend to the quietly harried Walden, bringing her notecards, markers for her whiteboard and more LaCroix. When the lights go out, takes of the soap opera play at intervals on a bank of TV sets mid-stage. O'Reilly is enshrined imperceptibly above all, his face transmitted through the same TV sets whenever he has something to proclaim. One can see the trust the cast has with each other, their reactions borne out of deep familiarity with each other's bodies and personalities, and Brook Celeste and Paul Brennan, newcomers to Curious Theatre Branch slide seamlessly into the organism.
A particular treat is the soap opera, with its delightfully nonspecific, campy trope-carrying language. Until the cast ( completely different actors from the Curious crowd ) completely throws in the towel, they keep trying to repeat the same simple language with varied emphasis and increasing frustration, which around the third take results in them being less affected transcending their limitations and reputations as soap opera actors. Both Magnus's well-crafted writing and their own willing to take risks make that magic possible. And after that one glorious take, the show devolves into simply hilarious farce, a welcome break from the heady stuff of artistic failure.
The only eensy- weensy niggling critique is that maybe, just maybe, even in a show about writing process, songs about writing process take up a little too much of the show. Maybe the end is a deus ex machinabut it's one that brings resolution when resolution seems unreachable, reminding us that there is always a torch to be passed, always a way to move on.