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Haymaker puts a recursive spin on an adolescent adventure tale

NeoFuturist Trevor Dawkins revives a screenplay he wrote at age 13.

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The Neo-Futurists are nothing if not self-reflexive. Creators of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, a show that bestows aliases on audience members while the actors play themselves, they love building M.C. Escheresque entertainments where every new element is another stairway torquing back on itself, forthrightly announcing its own artifice.

The 100-minute Haymaker is a messy, occasionally delightful case in point. When he was 13 years old, Too Much Light contributor Trevor Dawkins wrote Tears of Shanghai, a Raiders of the Lost Ark-inspired screenplay in which fearless hero Russell Dakota takes on a host of gangsters and Nazis while falling for the mysterious Elona Levingston. Now 27, Dawkins is reviving the script onstage with an ensemble whose eight other members question, resist, and overrule him as much as they cooperate. Characters are constructed and abandoned, or migrate among performers. Gender and ethnic issues arise. Tensions develop between Dawkins and his real-life significant other, Brenda Arellano, who comes to reject both Elona's perfection and Dawkins's demand that she embody it. Dawkins himself ricochets between ages and selves, trying to get a handle on the adult complexities that are being introduced into his adolescent fantasy. ("I wrote it when I was 13," he keeps explaining.)

The show's child-is-father-to-the man theme recedes into banality at times, as do the progressive orthodoxies it promotes. It doesn't pay to think too hard about the plot of Tears of Shanghai or to worry about how the conceit sloshes around in the course of the proceedings. Some of these Neo-Futurist stairways truly lead nowhere.

On the other hand, some take us to inspired places. There's a wonderful playtime pragmatism in the "rule" Dawkins makes permitting dead actors to come back to life, a deep resonance in the lightly played yet critical moment when he allows someone else to be Dakota while he takes on the role of a murderous giant, and lots of nerdish fun in everybody's apparently encyclopedic knowledge of American movie history. The great pleasure of Haymaker, though, lies with the intimacy, skill, and esprit de corps of the ensemble. Dallas Tolentino deserves special mention for his humor and athleticism as a kung fu killer, but everyone here kills one way or another.

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