Tidy Amanda Tears wells up in Red Eye

What is Amanda Tears driving at? Amelia English as the teenage detective
Avye Alexandres

If all the world is indeed a stage (and why not?), there are times when any of us could be excused for craving better direction or a vigorous rewrite. Gregory S. Moss's new Amanda Tears, Teenage Detective, like life sometimes, takes an unexpected turn down a narrative byroad, raising the question of whether knowledge and contentment can coexist.

Lucky for us, there's a helping of entertainment before we grapple with the heavy stuff. The action opens with an unseen narrator (Miriam Must) introducing our heroine (Amelia English), who resides in Beehive, California, exudes an intentionally ridiculous degree of pluck, and begins her spate of good deeds by curing her friend Zach (Dylan Frederick) of his internet masturbation habit when she reminds him that the objects of his onanistic fixation aren't "real."

It's advice that Amanda could well take to heart. As the seemingly light evening plays out, we see that she's prone to blackouts, unable to account for how she got from scene to scene, and that important people in her life have an alarming propensity for disappearing (such as her mother and, in the central mystery of this quasi-detective story, her best friend, Tina).

The majority of this 12-person cast are decidedly fresh-faced, and director Steve Busa extracts a breezy tone that underscores the increasing existential weirdness. There's some form of scurvy corruption going on involving the ridiculous tycoon Armand (Brian Joyce), in which Amanda's sometime boyfriend, Ryan (Matt Frants), might be involved, although the arrival of the dashing Oscar (Nick Crandall), a would-be Cuban tough guy who discovers himself as a transvestite midway through the evening, provides a fortuitous rescue.

It's just about as silly as it sounds, deceptively featherweight and at times suggesting sinister undertones that aren't really delivered. But English is convincing as her character descends into her own particular rabbit hole, and the final sequence of events is handled with a down-to-earth open-endedness.

The best thing about this show (other than its watchability) is the way it circles around notions of memory, reality, and truth (wake up from your own somnambulist's dream at your peril, in other words). Its greatest weakness lies down the same path: It offers a taste of these weighty things without sufficiently biting down. Nonetheless, you may well be disarmed. You could even find yourself reconstructing the events that brought you to the theater that night, and wondering whether your own story contains sufficiently tidy segues.

archy and in lower case is the sort of experience that is ostensibly about very little at all, yet somehow by the end manages to evoke a bittersweet heaviness in the heart that slips through amid the giggles.

The story, such as it is, is based on poems by Don Marquis from the 1920s (find them, and imagine a time when writing so literate, adventurous, and whimsical was once part of a daily newspaper). The conceit was that they were written by a cockroach who was the reincarnated soul of a poet (the roach was too small to hit the caps key on the typewriter, hence the lowercase typography).

Jim Lichtsheidl plays the cockroach, Archy, whose primary foil here is Mehitabel (Sarah Agnew), a world-weary feline who claims to be the latest incarnation of Cleopatra (but who goes blank at the mention of Marc Antony). The action involves a giant spider in the wings; Eric Jensen's lovely, earthy compositions; moronic moths; and an exhibition of Mehitabel's spectacularly lackadaisical mothering style.

It eludes much more description. Suffice it to say that, in its hour onstage, it gently pokes at a few thin metaphors and ends up humbly evoking the river of time in which we all hope to keep floating until we can't. It takes a certain freedom to induce these feelings in such a roundabout fashion, the kind of liberation that in this case only a cat and a cockroach can provide. All us beasts, after all, have our own poetry inside us. 

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