A ballet-horror-comedy with a healthy serving of butt jokes, Duck Lake is the kind of funny that leaves your face sore from smiling. A delightfully ridiculous plot line is centered around the hilarious Barry Canteloupe (Raymond Hobbs), a character as overzealous as the man playing him, and his theater company's creative retreat to workshop Canteloupe's latest rendition of Swan Lake.
But like any good story, there are some obstacles in the way. In this play, they come in many different shapes, sizes, and well, species. From jet skiers to skeletons, killer ducks to deranged actors, egos to airheads -- it will not be an easy path to the midnight "full technical rehearsal!" Barry Canteloupe won't stop reminding the cast about.
Along the way we get introduced to Canteloupe's cast. It's quite the group with the dim-witted stagehand Bob (Joseph Scheppers), overly theatrical Von Rothbart (Alex Boyd), soon-to-be-replaced-by-a-jet-skier Jayce (Duncan Wold), and highly-strung stage manager (Meredith Terry). But most notably there is Odette (Leah Shesky), and Prince (Sean Conroy), her male counterpart and long-lost-almost-lover. The two have great onstage chemistry and I found myself rooting for them to beat back the ducks and rekindle whatever was left of their almost-love.
Last Friday, the youthful and lively audience, most of whom were drinking, were captivated by the comedy -- and were also sometimes a part of it. During the theater companys guided group meditation (of course lead by Barry Canteloupe) and power animal exploration, Canteloupe stood behind Prince, his hand on his shoulder, as he helped him find his power animal.
Barry Canteloupe: "Only listen to my voice and the sound of your own breath."
Drunk guy in front row drops a glass bottle that clanks loudly on the concrete floor
Barry Canteloupe: "... and that."
It was an awkward interruption turned magical moment by Hobbs, who exudes charisma and comedy in everything he does. His sophisticated delivery of unsophisticated jokes made him the catalyst of the many of the crowd's laughing fits.
Lead actress Leah Shesky has been singing and dancing since she was a kid, and it showed. She certainly danced circles around Prince, who has only been dancing for three weeks, and was taught by his girlfriend (who is in the San Francisco Ballet) just for this show. But it's okay. He made up for it by truly believing in his character and kind of looking like the singer of Maroon 5.
This is Mission CTRL's first full-length production, but you wouldn't know it by watching the play. The group has been sketching together since their college days at UC Berkeley in 2008, and have been "best friends ever since," as Hobbs put it. The group joined up with PianoFight, which is opening up a restaurant and theater in San Francisco in the near future. The writing offers many great lines that you and your friends will undoubtedly be reciting after leaving the theater. And while watching the play from the audience, you get the feeling that this is a close-knit family affair, and that's probably because it is.
The audience ate up every joke, and whistled and hollered at every kiss. With the crowd utterly engaged in the story, the whole room had a friendly feel-good energy to it. Perhaps the reason the audience had such a good time was because the actors and actresses themselves were having a great time. After the play, and lots of backstage hugs, an "utterly euphoric" Evan Winchester, who played the lake's storytelling groundskeeper, told me, like the rest of the cast, that he couldn't believe how happy he was with the outcome of the show. Shesky explained why Duck Lake was different than anything else she had done before: "It's basically my dream role because I get to sing, dance, and be funny." And Hobbs said through a big grin, "We all feel a little bit vindicated for all the hard work, sweat, and tears we put into this, but also it just ended up being a lot of fun."
Shockingly enough for a play about plays, you really don't have to be a theater nut to enjoy Duck Lake. Somehow they have managed to hit the perfect sweet spot in criticizing the constant revamping of 400-year-old plays without turning off any newbies, who are perhaps not as bothered by such things.
With its flurry of F-bombs, barrage of exploding butts, and beautiful ballet, Duck Lake is definitely a must-see. I think the bearded groundskeeper said it best:
"You might know Swan Lake, but you don't know SHIT about Duck Lake."