The set, Full Circle Tattoo at 2312 30th Street in South Park, couldn’t be more authentic. Maybe 100 pictorial choices are framed on the walls, along with rows of knickknacks suggesting other possible “skin illustrations.”
When the audience of 20 or so, seated in wooden chairs, grows quiet, first sounds we hear are the real deal as well. Bill Canales, who runs the shop, pulls on white latex gloves and asks Mary, a woman from the audience lying on a flat black dentist’s chair, if she’s ready. When she says “yes,” we hear a buzz, like an electric razor, and Bill gives Mary her first ever tattoo.
Director Joshua Kahan Brody, who MC’s the performance and shows some of his tattoos, says the procedure is quite painful. “It hurts,” Mary agrees, especially with the “silent drill.”
The Trip’s latest offering, is sight- and sound-specific: three short one-acts about tattooing, which, says Brody, “may take as little as 15 minutes yet leaves a permanent mark.”
In Emily Dendinger’s “Three Brothers in a Tattoo Shop,” a mysterious design on their dying father’s upper thigh prompts the trio to find the truth. As they bicker, they express the eccentricities of grieving behavior: how, since it’s not something one practices, people can shoot off in wild, unforeseen directions.
The golfer Lee Trevino has an oval scar on his left forearm; he had to erase his first wife’s name when they divorced. Emily Feldman’s “Two Pigeons Exactly the Same” picks up on the impermanence of sudden choices. It follows the decade-long relationship of two gay men. They want the same tattoo on their left wrist. But the artist “can’t do same”: it goes against his aesthetic; and the mark will be forever, while their bond may not.
All three plays are about break-ups, breakdowns, and loss. Ryan Campbell’s “A Vacancy for a Bad Summer” begins with a perfect storm of woe: the company’s being audited (and there are missing tax records); one brother’s lady sent a “selfie” of her having sex with another man; and the third brother committed suicide in London.
One of the hallmarks of a Trip show: they disrupt the standard, stage-audience configuration. Spectators are immersed in the event; some even speak. The tattoo parlor serves as a fine venue for this interaction, since the actors perform in the aisle between the tattoo chairs, only three for four feet from spectators.
To make this connection, Trip shows always have an unfussy, unrehearsed looseness about what’s going on (i.e. you’re here to see a play; here come the actors). The opening night of “Three Plays” was too lax even by Trip standards. It could have used a few more rehearsals to feel unrehearsed.
The three one-acts also needed tightening. Arguments dominated each, which gave the evening a sameness of tone.
On the plus side, along with the atmosphere (including intrusive street noises) and the “set,” the three actors (Jared Houseman, Thomas Miller, and Matthew MacNelly) do strong work. And Miller does an extended monologue in “Vacancy,” as smiling, suicidal David, that’s worth the price of admission by itself.