True Believers

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday July 15, 2012

Ryan Edlinger and Michael Avellar star in ’True Believers,’ continuing through July 21 at the Factory Theatre
Ryan Edlinger and Michael Avellar star in ’True Believers,’ continuing through July 21 at the Factory Theatre  

"Does your father know you're a cyborg?" Calvin (Jeff Marcus) asks Billy (Zach Winston) at one point in Thom Dunn's geek-chic comedy "True Believers." "Because, trust me, that's the hardest part."

"True Believers" takes place at a comic book convention, where those in attendance get excited not only about graphic novels and super-heroes, but science fiction and fantasy as well, and in all media. Their ranks include not just fan-boys, but the professionals who entertain and inspire them: Ted (Michael Avellar), a 40-ish editor for DC Comics, is a Star Wars freak whose wife has tired of dressing in a "slave Leia" costume and left, taking Ted's prized Boba Fett action models with her. KT Watts (Caitlyn Conley) is a woman in a man's world, a comic book artist and writer whose sheer competence and take-no-prisoners attitude allows her to shatter glass ceilings and carve out a name for herself. And Chad Mailer (Ryan Edlinger) is a longtime "rising star" whose career peak happened five years ago; since then, he's been stalled, professionally, and, we suspect, personally.

Chad is also the target of fanboy wrath for having made a popular comic book hero "gay." (Chad points out time and again that by depicting male rape in jail he was making a statement about the nature of power and the conditions of prison life. The angry mobs seem not to appreciate the distinction.) Billy is one especially infuriated fan; a video blogger, Billy makes a pastime out of creating chaos and conflict, but he has a special vendetta against Chad.

Calvin is Billy's best friend, and an aspiring comic book artist in his own right. In order to more fully enter into superhero world, Calvin decides to become a costumed crusader himself, and dresses in a bright blue costume with a silver "A" emblazoned on his chest. His crime-fighting moniker? Avenger! (No "The," please. Just Avenger.) But when Billy himself starts seeming like Calvin's... er, Avenger's... nemesis, the young man is faced with some tough choices.

Meantime, when he's not coming under attack from Billy, Chad is trying to re-start his career, pitching ideas to Ted at every turn. But Ted is more interested in promoting his newest, and hottest, writer, a young man named Box (Jim Remmes) who is liable to launch into a complicated (if indecipherable) lecture on the subtleties of Green Lantern and Superman at the drop of a cape. Box has absolutely no interpersonal skills, but he does have an intensity about him that fascinates the fanboy crowd, and Ted is thrilled to exploit his natural oddness; "He's going to move a lot of units," Ted tells Chad.

But Ted isn't a completely heartless corporate drone. He has a love interest, Chloe (Rachel Katherine Alexander), whom he met online via a shared role-playing game. The two have never met face to face (except via their online avatars), but that doesn't mean they can't have fallen in love; indeed, Ted and Chloe believe they are in love, and they are set to meet for the first time at the comic-con, if only they can surmount the cascade of accidents that work to keep them apart.

Meantime, Chloe finds a guardian in KT, who takes her in hand, and a potential new friend in Chad.

As heroes and villains clash, it's not the fate of the cosmos that hangs in the balance, but rather the personal worlds of everyone involved. Comic books are wildly colorful exaggerations of life, a form of contemporary myth, and Dunn understands this. Dunn's energetic script takes on the general form of a farce, albeit one in which aimless young men dress in crude cardboard approximations of cyborg armor. The play's particulars may be specific to a certain social subset, but its themes and motivations are universal. The characterizations are well wrought and the jokes are smart, sometimes downright wicked sharp.

Vagabond Theatre Group's production does the play justice. James Peter Sotis directs; Lucas Garritty takes charge of the lighting, Sam Sewell handles the sound design, and Josh Friedensohn masters the challenges of the play's technical direction (video clips are part and parcel of the production). There's also a plethora of professional-grade art on display here. But the undisputed high point are the actors, who uniformly bring their A-Game.

"True Believers" continues through July 21 at the Factory Theatre, located at 791 Tremont Street in Boston.

Tickets cost $18 general admission ($15 for students). Performance scheduled: Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.