As part of its inaugural Extraordinary Renditions—A Satire of the World Around Us, Impact Theater does a sketch called “The Seals,” about the real-life flap surrounding a stretch of La Jolla beach where those wacky ol' humans can't seem to lay off the harbor seals that only wish to co-exist. From a production-values standpoint, it's not terribly well done. And, in any case, it never refers to the most newsworthy part of the whole story. On March 7, a man was charged with three counts after he allegedly threatened the life and safety of a pro-seal activist.
True, the incriminating stuff was only in an e-mail, but, hey—these days, you're better off not sending anything you wouldn't want a lawyer to read.
The play's remaining 10 installments suffer from the same kinds of holes, some more than others—but make no mistake: The correction of those missteps isn't necessarily the standard to which this company seeks to be held. Impact Theater is a different animal indeed, unapologetically embracing its art as a form of grassroots public discourse. Germany's Bertolt Brecht used performance as a platform for his socialist causes, and he gained a fair amout of notoriety in the process. America's Jessica Plautz, Impact artistic director and director/co-writer of these entries, gets the idea, whether or not she knows anything about Brecht or his fame. She and her company kindly direct everyone's attentions onto a number of topics that touch us all—and damned if, on one recent evening, everyone wasn't eager to acquiesce.
The installments brush items including right-wing politics (“Fear Register”), post-9/11 airport security (“The Mix-Up”) and alleged detainee abuse at Guantanamo Bay (“Kill Me, Already”)—the re-enacted waterboarding in that one features a persuasive bit of work by Jesse Moore, whose character was spawned by a rash of attempted suicides at Gitmo two years ago. “Survivor Jeopardy” sends up the legendary TV game show while alleging the maltreatment of San Diego's undocumented workers during the 2007 wildfires—“Patti,” the emcee (Dan Valko) brays, “you're white, so you go first!” Hee!
There's a disarming honesty to all this, one that bids forgiveness of the flaws—and on this night, the best was yet to come. Youthful passion fueled a 20-minute talkback that placed the audience center stage. Praise for Moore; the regret that local issues seemed to take a back seat to world events; queries on Impact's hopes for permanency in San Diego performance: This audience, 60 strong and of all ages and shapes, was magnificent amid its involvement, input and open mind. A simple evening's theater had yielded a climate of hope for the art, with one patron citing Coronado School of the Arts' recent production of Urinetown, a scathing indictment of capitalism's environmental backlash.
“Young theater people are getting it!” he crowed, applauding Impact's savvy on current affairs.
Please understand: Amid several slow uptakes, simplistic writing by Plautz, Jo Ann Allen and Scott Boehm and the burdens that come with rapid-fire multiple roles, this is not high art by any measure. The important thing to keep in mind is that it doesn't pretend to be, any more than its audience hires limos and rents its outerwear and jewels. In a very real sense, it's theater at its best—a ragtag, resourceful young collective's appeal to reason amid the thorny issues that dot the national debate. Hats off to everybody, especially the folks in the seats. This review is based on the performance of March 21. Extraordinary Renditions—A Satire of the World Around Us runs through March 29 at Swedenborg Hall, 1531 Tyler Ave. in University Heights. $12-$15. www.impacttheatersandiego.org.