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Archive for Thursday, September 6, 2001

September 6, 2001

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By Mitchell J. Near

mnear@ljworld.com

Matt Hislope is not a lunatic, but he is frequently crazy over theater and acting.

His resume as a student in the University Theatre program at Kansas University is amazingly well-rounded and eclectic, but that's not enough for Hislope, who also insists on performing off-stage in a variety of venues. Last year he and friends stormed into area businesses with a guerrilla street theater show, performing choreographed song and dance routines for the benefit of bored accountants and customer service representatives.

Then Hislope and his cohorts decided to take it to another level by staging Monty Pythonesque programs right in people's living rooms. After a show he wrote for another

performer was a big hit with local theater couch potatoes, Hislope has upped the ante by creating his own one-man act based on an off-Broadway cult hit called "The Fever."

"The show works best when it's pared down and simple," Hislope says. "The format is for me to come out in my bathrobe, sit in an easy chair and talk to you for an hour and a half."

That sounds scary -- having a thespian in your house speaking straight at you nonstop -- but it starts to sound like fun when other pieces of the puzzle fall together.

For starters, the play is the brainstorm of movie and theater actor Wallace Shawn. Although Shawn is best known for his sly turn in the flick "The Princess Bride," acting junkies also will recognize him as the force behind such critical successes as "My Dinner with Andre" and "Vanya on 42nd Street." He's also been around Broadway for decades, and is known for creating witty, literate, thought-provoking stories.

body is one of the most brilliant, messed-up genius minds in theater," Hislope raves.

"The Fever" is about a middle-aged rich man who wakes up one night in a dismal hotel bathroom in some no-name third-world nation. His monologue is basically him recounting his entire life, analyzing all of his treasures, his appreciation for music and fine art, all the things he thinks he needs. The man begins to destroy himself with guilt over his inability to let go of his material possessions and why he is so privileged in comparison to the citizens of the country he's visiting.

"It forms a vivid picture of guilt. As he recounts his life, he descends into an inferno of upper-middle-class guilt," Hislope says.

Shawn originally played the piece in New York City, performing it in his friends' living rooms for audiences of three to 15 people. And even when he toured, he kept the staging ultra simple, with no lighting effects or sound and only a bare stage and a chair to work with. But his typical madman dialogue leaves plenty of room for people to get crazy with it. "The Fever" has been done on radio, the gender has been changed at times to accommodate actresses, and it's even been staged in lavish full-throttle productions.

very detailed third-world bathroom set, with MPR being broadcast over speakers and interpretive dancers spinning around," Hislope deadpans.

Flexible background

The crazy performing life fits Hislope. That doesn't mean he's not serious about his craft, however. He received a diverse education at KU, performing in a smorgasbord of shows, including "Oklahoma!" "The Cherry Orchard," "Waiting for Godot" and "The Birds," along with more eccentric productions like the children's show "The Ugly Duckling," rendered with Kabuki make-up, and the Russian farce, "The Suicide."

"I got to do many different things, from an old warhorse musical like 'Oklahoma!' to grotesque Russian comedy," he says.

"It was a big, big mess," Hislope says.

Next came another piece they wrote for an actress friend. "Hannah Ballou is on Fire" found the piece's namesake performing their songs and sketches in area living rooms.

"It was all skits, songs, vaudeville and blatant displays of flexibility," he says.

During the show, Ballou spit lit gasoline, ate currency, sang through a megaphone and swam around in a kiddie pool for the benefit of 45 audience members crammed into a room.

"It was totally, totally hot and without air conditioning. People were all sweating together," Hislope says. "There were no meddling reactions. People either thought it was wacky theater, or they were appalled and terrified. People were never bored, whether they liked the show or not."

After he gets done touring the neighborhoods with his one-man show, Hislope is off to audition for the De'll Arte International School of Physical Theatre, while also planning to perform his own works.

He says, "I'll probably move to a city, organize some people and create madness."

-- The Mag can be reached at 832-7178.

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