This year’s winner of the Hollywood Fringe Festival’s Comedy award imagines a future where warring religious factions are not separated by what we might call traditional ideological lines and the reception of a play can mean the difference between life and death. Playwright Matthew Robinson has crafted a dark yet funny take on life in America 300 years into the future with Olivia Wilde Does Not Survive The Apocalypse.
Directed by Robby Devillez, the play opens with Vick Montgomery (Sean-Michael Bowles) seated in a chair/sleep study chamber. He’s a film director with few credits under his belt and less-than-successful ideas who is in need of a little extra cash. He is flabbergasted when famous actress Ava O’Sullivan (Emilie Martz) takes a seat in the chamber next to him. She claims she’s there to get a break from it all but both Dr. Kelli Hu (Ashley Frances Hoffman) and Vick start to mention a scandal that is more likely the cause (we learn later on that she attended a celebrity event where she outraced a boy with a disability rather than let him win).
They are put to sleep, which is what they expect, only the civilization outside their sheltered space falls apart completely and they wake up hundreds of years later in a world where a fascist government led by Rodeo (Francesca Manzi) worships the now goddess Olivia Wilde and references the many magazine interviews she participated in when alive the way some people reference the Bible. Before they meet Rodeo, they encounter Chandler (Chelsea Lagenderfer) and Marcus (Everett Dailey), two rebels who worship Bey (Beyonce, if you couldn’t guess) and seek her guidance through the use of some of her iconic dance moves. Rodeo’s soldier Abbot Kinney (Asia Pitts) captures the foursome and brings them to Rodeo who is about to sentence them to the mines for the rest of their lives until Ava reveals she knew Olivia Wilde and she and Vick admit they are an actor and director.
Wanting to spread the word of Wilde and certain that Oscar is Olivia’s ancestor, Rodeo orders them to perform The Importance of Being Earnest in front of a live audience. If they do well, they get to live – and probably work in the mines for the rest of their lives. If they don’t, they will be executed on TV. They get to dig during the day where they meet Crenshaw (Chris Bunyi) and another man played by director Robby Devillez. This becomes the core group of actors that Vick is forced to shepherd into some kind of entertaining troupe. There are dangers in the mines, however, including cannibalistic zombies and of course the ever-present threat of Abbot Kinney’s desire to shoot one of them ahead of schedule. It sounds dire but it is a hilarious 76 minutes of theatre that never lets up. Though Crenshaw is terrified of being on stage and Chandler is wooden, DeVillez’s character [apologies all, the name is not in the program nor is it on the website and I have no script to reference] thrives in the spotlight and everything almost looks like it’s going to be okay.
That’s when a zombie cannibal strikes, setting off a running gag that dials the energy levels up to the maximum for the rest of the show. Each actor gets their moment in the sun but Chris Bunyi has one of the funniest beats when he complains about his aching back from ‘carrying all of you’. It should also be mentioned that the scene changes were entirely entertaining thanks to a concerted effort from one figure who turned newspaper scattering and collecting into a dance-related art form. There’s only one show left on Wednesday, July 10th but if you don’t live here or can’t make it at least you should file this one for future reference, and definitely keep an eye out for Matthew Robinson’s next play. He’ll make you laugh. Promise.