Clocks, blackboards, surrealist artworks and a movie screen decorate the auditorium-turned-classroom.
John Lennon's voice floats above.
"Living is easy with eyes closed / Misunderstanding all you see ..."
Two stools sit at center stage. A rubber chicken holding an ax leans ominously against the seat of one. At the back of the stage, a cluttered desk is flanked by two seated mannequins. A stuffed crow perches on a globe, its lifeless eyes glaring into space.
William S. Burroughs author, drug addict and this school's namesake morosely peers out of a bleak photo tacked to a door.
In a burst of frantic energy, Atomic Elroy (Tom McElroy) bounds into the scene. Apologizing for his tardiness, tonight's "substitute teacher" immerses himself into his audience, which he addresses as a student body.
But this is no ordinary lesson. Through a mixture of stream-of-consciousness monologue, psychedelic rock songs and movie vignettes, Elroy reminisces about a time when his life was fueled by a combination of teenage hormones, surrealist philosophy and an ample supply of illicit substances.
The combination makes I was a Teenage Surrealist an often hilarious performance by one of the Springs' most established art buffs. For 35 years, McElroy has worked in the local art world, serving as everything from a stagehand at Palmer High School to director of performing arts at the Fine Arts Center.
True to its mission, Teenage Surrealist is unique. It is primarily a one-man show (with the exception of some assistance from receptionist Mrs. Bubbles, played by Lisa McElroy, Tom's wife), in which Elroy's adolescence unfolds in a series of narratives.
The show is sometimes puzzling, but also irreverent and a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the night I attended, the "class size" was a parent's dream and a performer's nightmare. Even so, McElroy bared his soul with an enthusiasm worthy of a far larger crowd.
"You should do it the way it is, and stick with it," he explains. And he does.
Watching an artist who's unafraid to follow his vision is rewarding.
"I want to make theatergoing like seeing a film. People go and see a movie for two hours and if they don't like it, they blow it off. Whereas with theater, one bad experience can turn people off all future performances," says McElroy.
Teenage Surrealist is unconventional and will not appeal to everyone, but it's definitely not a bad experience. Those open to such a production will happily bask in an exciting exposition of theatrical ingenuity.
I Was a Teenage Surrealist
CHAOS Studios, 802 N. Weber St.
Thursday-Saturday, April 13-15, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $10 at the door; call 634-5429 or visit chaosartspace.blogspot.com for more.