Dr. Evil is not being taken seriously. And he should be: The inalienable right to a good cup of coffee is at risk. Not to mention the Newark Airport.
River Company’s latest virtual offering, “Dr Evil and the Attack of the Laser Pigeons,” is a ridiculously silly half-hour romp that takes the audience inside the machinations of the International Council of Evil, and reveals Dr. Evil’s latest plot for world domination.
Countess Gothma enjoys a glass of wine in her decaying castle as she formally calls the monthly online meeting of the council to order. On hand are the insidious Archduchess Arsenica in her Arctic lair, villainous Prince Vladi in his ornate palace, and wicked Lord Warhammer at home in the Scottish borderlands.
A threatening flourish of music announces the dramatic entrance of Dr. Evil – in pjs and fuzzy slippers.
The council’s agenda is quickly derailed by a discussion of professional dress or the lack thereof, but eventually Robert’s Rules of Order prevail and the aforementioned plans for world domination are presented.
Dr. Evil has a new and brilliant scheme involving an army of laser pigeons, but his idea is met with nothing but ridicule by his evil peers.
But Dr. Evil demonstrates the efficacy of his plan by deploying his minion pigeons to the homes of the council members. As explosions light up the various landscapes, the council hastily adjourns. But not before telling Dr. Evil to “go ahead with your pigeon thing.”
And he does. The audience is along for the ride as Dr. Evil threatens the mayor of Seattle, the governor of New Jersey, and all of middle America with laser-based destruction.
River Company is a Lincoln County non-profit with a mission to “provide a local arena for artists to gain theatrical experience that fosters artistic growth.”
The company has been a part of the community since 1998 and has produced more than 50 plays, most of them in front of a live audience. But since the advent of the pandemic they have explored the art of virtual performance as a way to keep community theater alive and viable.
River Company member Judy McQuillen, who ultimately produced the play, suggested “Dr Evil and the Attack of the Laser Pigeons.” No one in the company had seen or read it, but they saw potential.
“Why not have some fun with it?” said director Nick Azzaretti. “It’s not a complicated play. It’s easy for kids to understand and enjoy,” and adults can chuckle along.
According to Azzaretti the production was like a party. The actors embraced the play’s spirit, using simple, sometimes silly props to their advantage, and exaggerating facial expressions and accents to build their characters.
Mitchell Wellman as Dr. Evil crafted his own radio-control pigeon-deploying helmet, and when Tori DeLisle as Josephine Esoteric places a colander on her head as her own version, the audience just accepts it as part and parcel of the silliness at the heart of the play.
The company made good use of experience gained from previous virtual productions. “Dr. Evil” gave them yet more opportunity to play within the medium of Zoom, adding visual and sound effects, and photo backdrops all sourced from the public domain.
Those added elements reflect the collaboration between Azzaretti as the director and Wellman as the editor and executive producer of the play.
Wellman also inhabited the title role. “How he approached the character was integral to what I wanted to do with the whole play,” Azzaretti said. While Dr. Evil could have been played as a classic villain, Azzaretti saw no reason to reproduce those exaggerated evil stereotypes.
“The character is built on the actor’s instrument,” Azzaretti said. And Dr. Evil as played by Wellman is “actually a really nice guy.”
According to Azzaretti, Wellman brought a lot of extra little touches to the character and his sense of humor and innate sweetness shine through.
“Mitchell doesn’t have an evil bone in his body,” Azzaretti said.
Brian Taylor, the author of “Dr Evil and the Attack of the Laser Pigeons” is an acquisitions editor and playwright with Pioneer Drama Service, a company that publishes plays and musicals for schools and community theaters.
Taylor wrote the play in April 2020 just as the country was entering lockdown. Pioneer Drama scrambled to find shows that could be performed virtually.
Taylor had written his first Dr. Evil play in 2005, “Dr. Evil and the Basket of Kittens.” His children were watching the movie, “Despicable Me,” at the time and he was inspired to write a play pairing the concept of an evil madman with something adorable. Kittens fit the bill.
According to Taylor, every evil madman interrupts a broadcast to tell the world their evil plans. That idea led him to look at the role screens already play in the daily lives of audience members and figure out how he could leverage that to create a screen-based production that felt like it fit the medium.
Taylor wrote “Dr. Evil and the Attack of the Laser Pigeons” in about a week. He based the play on a number of cultural touchstones, including “Despicable Me” and the Austin Powers movies.
He fleshed out the story by referencing regional cultures from the Portlandia world of Seattle to the tough guy types of Jersey to the unflappable residents of the country’s breadbasket. He included a tongue-in-cheek nod to Joe Exotic; the “Tiger King” was a juggernaut early in the pandemic and Taylor grew up in that area of Oklahoma. He thought it would be appropriate to have tigers thwart Dr. Evil’s plans.
“It’s not a classic. It’s not going to live in theatrical history,” Azzaretti said. But that’s not the point.
For Azzaretti and the members of River Company, “Dr. Evil and the Attack of the Laser Pigeons” is a labor of love. “That’s what I think theater should be,” Azzaretti said.
“Dr. Evil and the Attack of the Laser Pigeons” features performances by Tori DeLisle, Allison Eddyblouin, Thaddeus Eddyblouin, Michael Hovance, Mike Lee, Judy Mcquillen, and Christine Tupper.
All of River Company’s video productions, including “A Christmas Carol” and Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” can be viewed on its YouTube channel: https://bit.ly/3nvlV3W.
From Dec. 1 through Jan. 1 all donations to River Company will aid the Community Housing Improvement Project (CHiP) and the Ecumenical Food Pantry as part of the company’s annual fundraising drive.
Donations can be made online at https://bit.ly/3nrBZnq or mailed to River Company, P.O. Box 101, Damariscotta, ME 04543.