Give most kids a refrigerator box and they'll re-imagine it as a race car or spaceship. Some of us never outgrow that ability, and a fortunate few actually parlay it into a career.
One of them is Thaddeus Phillips, who will perform his solo play, Capsule 33, at TheatreWorks starting this weekend. The production, which the 1994 Colorado College graduate co-created with Tatiana Mallarino last year, focuses on Milo, a physicist living in a "pod" in Tokyo's Nakagin Capsule Tower.
Onstage, the pod is a box modeled after the real Nakagin capsules — closet-sized living units — and spins 360 degrees in all directions. The tower is scheduled for implosion, but Milo intends to stay until the bitter end; in monologue directed at his rubber duckie, he reflects on his life during what could be his last day on Earth.
That may sound like a depressing theater experience, but TheatreWorks artistic director Murray Ross promises audiences will enjoy Phillips' "childlike core of playfulness and adventure." About a year ago, Ross saw the play in Denver with his grandchildren.
"I was just thrilled by it," he remembers. "I thought, 'This is just so charming and so magical and inventive and fun.' I thought it would work really well in our theater."
We spoke with Phillips (who last performed here in 2007 with Flamingo/Winnebago, which he co-wrote and directed) via e-mail; he's in New York, wrapping up the Capsule 33 run off-Broadway. He says he wrote up the character of Milo to represent the world's apathy as it faces some inevitable doom.
"Capsule 33 is aimed to show a new way of doing things, of powering a show off the power grid, of looking at lost ideas, from Japanese architecture to the ideas of Nikola Tesla — and examining what it is literally 'to be or not to be,'" he writes. "The performance is an action-packed adventure meditation about one man's last day — and the idea is to get people thinking about the possibilities for our future and where we are going."
That's right, the script gives a nod to Nikola Tesla, the scientist who lived briefly in Colorado Springs and "starred" in the recent TheatreWorks production, I Am Nikola Tesla. Ross considers it a happy accident. While he doesn't want TheatreWorks audiences to be "Teslafied" out, he notes there are parallels between Milo and Tesla, the latter who spent his later years on the 33rd floor of the New Yorker Hotel, talking to pigeons. The Capsule 33 script draws from Tesla's writings, among other sources.
What's more, the play is billed as the first production to be powered by sustainable energy; the audience will be invited to operate foot pumps to generate electricity for the lighting. Phillips points out that Tesla proposed using solar energy ... in 1933.
Ross compares the pod, made of recycled materials, to a phone booth — or that refrigerator box.
"It looks very simple, but he manipulates it in the most amazing way," Ross says of Phillips. "It's better than Doctor Who. This phone box becomes completely magical. It's a stage-magician kind of show in that sense. He's pulling rabbits out of that pod."