Don’t take the title of Sean Kirkpatrick’s new play, “A Literal Garbage Fire” seriously. There will be no live flames on the stage of the Downtown Dance Collective.
“That’s part of the joke of the title,” Kirkpatrick said. “There’s not actually a literal garbage fire.”
Maybe that was a dumb question to lead off with, given Kirkpatrick’s love for satire that extends further with his newest play, a mashup of ideas and genres that will all, in the end, be spun on their heads.
One can see a standard story at any theater, in any movie, on any television show, Kirkpatrick said, one where a boy meets a girl, they fall in love and they have a small problem that then is solved before the run time is over.
“We’re going to take what you know a story to be … and let’s flip that,” he said. “While, of course, still being fake because it’s a play.”
Kirkpatrick’s last production, a musical called “[title of show],” featured a story about writing a musical that was “about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical,” Kirkpatrick told the Missoulian last summer.
Expect similarly tongue-in-cheek metatextual subversiveness in “A Literal Garbage Fire,” where “Someone. Will. Die. (metaphorically),” according to the poster.
The show takes place in the year 2025 and follows a troupe of sketch comedy actors, who are putting on a performance when one of the cast is murdered, spurring an investigation that leaves all as suspects, including the audience.
That sets up plenty of tropes to be undermined, including sketch comedy, murder mysteries, politics and gender.
April Sommers stars as the great Detective Mustachioed Man, “straight out of a dinner theatre production.”
And although the detective is played by a woman, Kirkpatrick said, “We’re not commenting, really. It is what it is.”
But, given the nature of the play, “She’s got some tricks up her sleeves.”
Nevin Graves is an audience plant, who needles the performers and leads the rest of the audience into interaction during the investigation.
Like any good sketch troupe, the cast have room to improvise if the audience gets a little too interactive, Kirkpatrick said.
The not-so-distant futuristic setting is an excuse to plug some narrative holes, Kirkpatrick said, and to add some new bits, like a robot member of the troupe and a nuclear apocalypse that caused a societal collapse.
But, naturally, sketch comedy comes back quickly.
“Oh, yeah,” Kirkpatrick said, “Because we all want to laugh.”
It also allows for the play to poke at current events with some remove, because “it can get a little exhausting talking about the same group of idiots,” according to Kirkpatrick.
The idea for the play started as a two-hour-long eulogy that included flashbacks of the deceased character’s life, where it was revealed in the end he was a robot made of trash.
That then morphed into a sketch comedy-murder-investigation play, inspired by the famous “Chekov’s gun” trope, where, if a gun is shown in Act I, it will go off by the end of the play.
“Things are introduced for a purpose,” Kirkpatrick said, and that doesn’t only include weapons.
“A lot of the fun of the show is long-form jokes, where you’ll get the setup of something and 20 minutes later you’ll get a punch line.”
Sometimes, the joke is that there’s no punchline, but Kirkpatrick’s not worried about audiences following along.
Subversive humor has hit the mainstream in movies like “Deadpool” and even “The Last Jedi,” he noted, meaning audiences should be at least a little familiar with the show’s layers of meta jokes and anti-humor.
“It’s not too out there,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s not — I don’t want to say realistic — but it is relatable.”