Playwright Randy Wayne Youngblood, who died last year at the age of 56, lived quite a life. He once toured as a roadie with the rock band Yes. He was a cofounder of Our Own Voice (OOV) Theatre Company. He was an a writer whose images, while often surreal, could land on the ear, and on the heart with extraordinary force. He was also diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1984 but he never let that define him. Instead, he used his unique perspective, and his writing to define everybody else.
This week OOV company members say goodbye to their old friend one more time when Youngblood's last play, Attorney/Joker: Part Sign, closes at TheatreWorks.
Youngblood's funny, quirky script is patched together from pieces of 70's and 80's-era song lyrics, parts of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, and bits of the old vampire soap opera Dark Shadows. Some scenes are structured entirely around the lyrics of the Eagles 'Hotel California." Only, unlike the Eagles, the scenes don't suck.
Attorney/Joker: Part Sign is an occasionally confounding patchwork of ideas relating pop culture to identity.Director/adaptor Alex Skitolsky, who is no stranger to Youngblood's writing, has done an amazing job navigating the dense language, and finding something like a narrative. It's also clear that the cast— a who's who of OOV alum— really has its heart in this one.
I sometimes caution that OOV's work may not be for everybody, which isn't true at all. But I want audiences— especially audiences brave enough to sample new and experimental work— to have reasonable expectations. This is no-budget theater created by a community of artists with a shared vision, and a drive to make artistically progressive, socially responsible work. It's not about slick, polished performances, or elaborate sets and costumes. But even if you're more of a mainstream theatergoer, if you open yourself up to the unexpected, the unexpected is exactly what OOV delivers.
The lingering image from Attorney/Joker: Part Sign, for me, comes from a song performed by Zak Baker of the band Zigadoo Money Clips. "The garden is tremendous," he sings. As tended by Youngblood, and his OOV colleagues, it certainly has been.