Why WET’s RoboPop! is Not My New Favorite Thing
The reviews are in! WET’s RoboPop! (through May 10) is “an exciting, charming, brilliantly designed and performed piece of alternative theater and a must see event for anyone who loves innovative and original live theater.” That’s Seattle Gay Scene.
Seattle Met describes it as “an 80-minute music video onstage that threatens to be too esoteric (there’s no dialogue), but manages to appeal to everyone with its sweet—not saccharine—storyline and outstanding tech elements.”
Seattle Weekly, what have you got to say? “More live-action music video than drama or musical, RoboPop! was created by the ensemble, and it further cements WET’s reputation in the top tier of theater artists working in the city today.”
And Facebook says it’s “sort of a music video come to life, for a non-existent concept album.”
Now I feel better about being the odd man out. I found RoboPop! slightly tedious and mostly vapid–very much like one of those brightly colored breakfast cereals with all the sugar. It’s an amazing technical feat for a small theatre, no question. You know, it’s like, How did they get all that sugar in a tiny purple O?
Andrea Bryn Bush’s pop-up set creates a multitude of spaces in a single tiny one; Heidi Ganser’s costume design revives acid-washed denim, day-glo jumpsuits, and threateningly cranial robot heads; and if Amiya Brown’s lighting design doesn’t make you wonder if someone dose you with LSD beforehand, then your eyes aren’t open. Brendan Hogan’s soundtrack-album sound design is good enough you could just close your eyes and listen. (The show comes in 20 “tracks” rather than acts.
But apparently, you either have dreamed all your life of someone expanding a music video to 60 minutes, or you have not. I happen to fall in the latter camp. I didn’t hate RoboPop!, I just would have preferred to watch the 5-minute trailer. (There is one, and it’s fun.) Otherwise, the narrative is threadbare and sketchy (it boils down to hipsters vs. robots war, hipster falls for flower-power robot medic, some awkwardness, and then a party).
I suppose I should be more impressed by the chutzpah of not having speaking roles–but there’s a difference between the entertainment value in watching actors dance, and watching dancers dance. Some of The Ensemble have hoofer chops, some do not. Some are more gifted mimes than others. Co-directors Heidi Ganser and Ben Zamora stage dance ensembles and combats for much of the show, with a little transcendent time-out for love to conquer all, while the music soars Flaming Lips-ically.
I did like Hannah Victoria Franklin as (I imagined) the “Motherland,” dressed in a stunning (for unusual reasons) fur robe/geisha pastiche and glaring as if she had imaginary heat-ray eyes, and John Abramson gave good hard-boiled leatherneck. But the moments never added up for me. When the actors closed with a dance party, complete with balloons and confetti, stripping off tops and bottoms, I slumped in my seat. (And these were all hot people disrobing, so what gives?)
An ADHD hour of pop culture allusions and appropriations and topical signifiers (iPods, war, gay marriage) had tired me out, and all I could see was a group of people pretending a good time had arrived.