Playing at: Gallaudet University: Eastman Studio Theatre
Remaining performances: July 19 at 8:45 p.m., July 23 at 1 p.m. Tickets available here
They say: A madcap stoner/prison/dystopian/journalism/real estate comedy about a shiftless, dog walking and drug dealing rich kid who finds himself by going to jail. Think The Shawshank Redemption but with more pot, yoga, and therapy (the poo-filled escape tunnels are still there, though).
Mike’s take: There’s a lot going on here. Any one of the topics Prison Break, Inc. touches on could be a whole play of its own: the private prison industry, marijuana legalization, gentrification, the gig economy, the Fair Sentencing Act… playwright Derek Hills throws them all into one big hodgepodge story, lingering on each one just long enough for you to think you’ve figured out the point, until it’s off to the next one and you no longer have. So, kind of like a Trump speech, it’s either a testament to broadness of vision or ADD, depending on your personal tastes.
At the center is Nathan (Andrew Flurer), a spoiled kid who supplements handouts from his house-flipping mommy (Kimberlee Wolfson) with petty criminal activity until she decides to scare him straight by sending him to a prison boot camp. Accompanying him, for no clear reason, are his life coach (Karen Elle), an enterprising reporter (Nichole Chimere Morgan), and a guy named Greasy Thumbz (Sebastian Leighton). This for-profit facility turns out to be the center of four or five additional plots involving some stolen money, a job training program, a smuggling operation, and a pot decriminalization bill. So this is about the evils of the drug war, right? Or maybe privatization. Or the counseling industry. Or Tough Mudder.
Sprinkled throughout are random details that seem important at the time but turn out not to be. Why are there piranhas in the prison? Why does the mom slip into an Irish lilt all of a sudden? Eventually you have to just roll with it or your questions become a lot more self-doubting. Is this satire or absurdism? Am I supposed to get it? Am I just dumb?
There are enough genuinely funny moments, and politically salient commentaries (about racial sentencing disparities, for example) to suggest this isn’t meta-humor, that Hills and director Natalia Gleason aren’t simply fucking with you. When inmate Eddie (Samuel Wright) observes the similarities between the food truck business and the dope business, it’s good. When Elle, now Greasy Thumbz’ life coach, encourages him to “call three people who know you and ask them to tell you your amazing qualities” and he calls a supplier he ripped off, who puts out a hit on him, it’s even better. Hills’ previous work was much more narrowly focused, on himself, with his solo show No Sex, Please. He’s gone in the opposite direction with Prison Break, Inc. With so much ground to cover, the jokes can get lost, which is a shame because so many of them are good (Crystal the house-flipper rebrands “North Sketchytown” to “NoSkeTo”). There’s a balance to be struck in a more streamlined approach; even stoner comedies can be methodical.
See it if: You’re high.
Skip it if: You prefer your prison dramas with more shankings.