This review of Villain: DeBlanks at The Triad was written by Nickolaus Hines and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Created by Writer/Director Billy Mitchell
Presented by Brenda Braxton
158 West 72nd Street
New York, New York 10023
Before there were TVs in every car and a proliferation of shows from television's "Golden Age" on que for instant consumption, there were communal family games. Villain: DeBlanks harkens back to the communal qualities of that time, but it is unapologetically, hilariously, not restricted to clean family fun.
Villain: DeBlanks (possibly pronounced Fill In The Blanks) is a Mad Libs - vaudeville - murder mystery - choose-your-own-adventure mash up presented by Brenda Braxton and conceived of/written by Billy Mitchell. A stage prepared for what could best be described as a script reading is filled by a new cast of actors for each performance. And while the actors are Tony Award winners and Broadway celebrities, the audience is the star of the show.
The audience decides the pace, atmosphere, and tone of the night. Shortly after being seated and introduced to the night's cast (and after ordering the first drink of The Triad's two drink minimum), the cast descends into the audience with script and pen in hand.
"I need a verb."
"Give me a place."
"Can you tell me a type of vehicle used in construction?"
It's clear by the actor's face when a given word is going somewhere comedic. Speculation on exactly why it's comedic, however, are the only snippets of sound that can be heard from the audience members sitting on cozy plush seats around the small tables. The audience is asked for nouns, verbs, adjectives, liquids, cities, desserts, and body parts.
When the scripts are full, the actors finally return back to the stage. In the December 6th show, I was treated to Daisy Eagan, Bobby Cronin, Lauren Elder, Geneva Carr, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, Peter Filichia, and Steve Schonber - each possessing very different skill sets, yet each equally able to entertain in the largest and most public game of vaudevillian Mad Libs I have ever seen.
The story revolves around the murder of Philip DeBlanks, a man who left a large fortune up for grabs after he mysteriously died. Each character (who each also has a punny nickname) has their own reasons why they did or did not murder DeBlanks. And while the pre-intermission section of the story has that set plot line, strategically placed words were provided by the audience.
In Villain: DeBlanks, like in life, there are people who understand the game and people who don't. Some of the audience-provided words missed the mark entirely, but most of them pleasingly stick the landing. Each individual performance is like a crap shoot at the large casino Philip DeBlanks owned in the story. One audience member may fill in the spaces with dick synonyms while another may provide the first mundane word that spills out of their mouth. Luckily, December 6th involved a healthy balance and the result was an astounding level of all-encompassing humor.
The actors say their lines without a hitch in their step, but it's clear which words were provided by the audience. It's also clear which area of the audience provided each word, as a pocket of especially enthusiastic laughter would break out from the people involved in the writing of that specific part of the murder mystery.
After a spattering of character debates speckled with absurd words, intermission begins and who committed the murder is just as ambiguous. The meaning of the paper in front of each audience member becomes clear, and this is where the choose-your-own-adventure part comes into play. While waiting for round two of the two order drink minimum, the theater-goer once again becomes the playwright. This time, in the form of circling a character's name.
A loud and involved (on second thought, all of Villain: DeBlanks is involved) tallying off of the votes follows and the murderer is announced. The ending reflects the audience's choice.
Villain: DeBlanks is theater of the people at its finest. The only negative factor was the show's abbreviated length. At $25.00 a ticket with a two drink minimum, the 75 minute (at most) show seems abrupt. A portion of the proceeds benefit the Humane Society of New York though, and it is hard to complain too much after having been thoroughly entertained.
The show was previously in Los Angeles and had a limited engagement run in New York at Joe's Pub and 54 Below. Future performances are scheduled at The Triad for January 3rd, February 7th, March 6th, and April 3rd, all Sundays at 7:30 p.m. For tickets and information, visit www.villaindeblanks.com