Theater Review - Dad's Garage turns to audience for Winner

Show helps you find your inner badass

Should you trust a stage performer who wants to put you on stage? Sometimes audience interaction amounts to public humiliation: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) brings a spectator into the spotlight and forces the victim to scream on cue. All performers will claim that such stunts are all in good fun, but some clearly want to encourage laughter at their volunteers, not with them.

Occasionally, however, an unplanned stage appearance will turn out to be a lot of fun. Winner, the Story of You, playing through May 19 at Dad's Garage Theatre's Top Shelf Space, seems both embarrassing and exhilarating for the ticket holder who becomes the star of the show. Actor/writers Christian Danley and Randy Havens, who previously delivered the insightful Griefers, craft a geekily entertaining framework for a heavily improvised performance that builds to an amusing outcome.

Based on the opening night performance, Winner gathers a little information for its prospective protagonist before curtain time. You can rest assured that the cast doesn't force people to play the lead in Winner against their will. At the top of the show, Danley, Havens, and "Archer's" Amber Nash take the stage as the "Time-Fixing Future Cops!" a trio of uniformed police officers who arrive to avert a disaster to come. Somebody in the audience is fated to become the world's most famous person: "More famous than Angelina Jolie?" "Oh, yeah. More famous than her leg."

As the Sergeant, Danley brings Earth's savior-to-be onto the stage to gather some background information. (On opening night, an on-air personality from KICKS 101.5 was the "You.") Using the miracle of time travel, the heroine relived key moments from her past and present, from birth to a typical day at work. While Danley serves as the show's de facto host and guide, Nash and Havens slide effortlessly into multiple roles. In a childhood flashback, the heroine's mother (Nash) helped bring out her greatest talent. Then Havens, as the Dad, said, "You're 10 years old. It's time to face your worst fear."

By inviting participants to identify their talents and fears, Winner begins like a madcap version of a motivational seminar. Danley and Havens come across more as film nerds than self-help gurus, however, as they put the heroine through low-impact training exercises worthy of a movie montage. Viewers who always wanted to be Luke Skywalker get their chance with scenes in the future involving space stations, a rampaging kill-bot, and the heroine's evil twin from an alternate dimension. At one point, the villain's victim exclaimed "In my universe, it's DICKS 101.5! It's nothing but the sound of dicks!"

Directed by Kevin Gillese, Winner, the Story of You unfolds at a snappy pace and features a cheesy but witty design of its space-age sets and props. The opening night show may not have been the most representative performance, as the volunteer proved pugnaciously enthusiastic as the star, and other "Yous" may be more awkward in front of a crowd. Fleet and funny, Winner, the Story of You feels more purposeful than many improv-based shows and may be the rare audience participation show that's more fun to be in front of the audience than part of it.

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