Former Local Goes Commando

action/comedy Fringe Fest fun from Marcus Downs

Emily Anderson

“What did you say about my eye liner?” Former local Marcus Anthony Downs (not shown) wrote and directed the Minnesota Fringe Festival production of The Base.
“What did you say about my eye liner?” Former local Marcus Anthony Downs (not shown) wrote and directed the Minnesota Fringe Festival production of The Base.

The year is 1988. The Soviets have captured the leader of the Afghan resistance. Without him, Afghanistan will fall to the Soviets along with the free world. Now it’s up to one American commando to rescue him. 

This synopsis from the Minnesota Fringe Festival’s website is the basic premise of one of the festival’s most anticipated productions this year, The Base, an original action (yes, action) play written and directed by Marcus Anthony Downs. Although billed as one, this production isn’t a comedy in the obvious sense. It is a satirical piece aimed at the American worldview of the USSR and Afghanistan in the late 1980s. Some of the lines are so ridiculous, given what we know now, the audience may be inclined to wonder if the creators were serious when they wrote them. The answer? They weren’t. However, according to Downs, “It is completely possible to enjoy this play without having any awareness of the satire.” The play stars Shad Cooper as the American Commando, Houston, Gretchen Grunzke as Veronica, Paul Butcher as General Orlov, and Kyler Chase as multiple characters.

Many seem to think you can’t do something like an action movie on stage because you can’t add explosions or special effects. Downs is here to prove those people wrong.

The Base wasn’t Downs’ first proposal for the festival. After two other ideas didn’t meet his standards, he knew he needed something else. The inspiration for The Base came to Marcus after watching Rambo III and it was brought to his attention that the film “is dedicated to the brave Mujahedeen fighters of Afghanistan.” This sentiment, which was common among Americans in the late 80s, surprised Downs, because of its contrast to the views many Americans harbor toward the “enemy” in Afghanistan today. Both generations seem certain who their true enemies are, but neither have any way of really knowing. Marcus thought it would be entertaining to make these comparisons through the script’s satire. Three drafts later, The Base, as the audience will see it, was born.

Marcus – who grew up in the Chippewa Valley – got started in theatre when he created his own theatre troupe, the St. Thomas Players, when he was a freshman at St. Thomas University. He did it just so he could have the opportunity to write and direct his own pieces. Since then he has been heavily involved with theatre in the Twin Cities, writing, directing, and occasional acting. He has written six plays (including The Base) that have been performed for an audience and has directed many more. His goal is to produce theatre that expands people’s ideas of what theatre is and what you can do with it. Many seem to think you can’t do something like an action movie on stage because you can’t add explosions or special effects. Downs is here to prove those people wrong. Audience members will be pleasantly surprised how much intense action the actors can bring to the stage. 

With such an uncommon storyline, Marcus has been able to give the performance a unique energy that stems from the fact that the actors don’t have any previous performances to influence their portrayal of the parts. It also stems from many opportunities throughout the show to improvise. Each performance is different from the last.

Obviously Downs is no stranger to the theatre, nor is he one to the Fringe Festival. His original plays Medea Ex Machina and Strike were performed during the 2010 and 2011 Fringe Festivals, respectively. After his experiences over the last two years, Marcus hoped to reenter this year’s festival because of the type of audience that comes to a festival like this. Those that attend the Fringe Festival are “professional” theatregoers who really love theatre, so the response and attention that comes from such an audience is an extraordinary experience for any writer/director. The Minnesota Fringe Festival is the area’s only festival that features only live plays.

The Base will be performed five different times throughout the festival. Its first performance on Saturday, August 4 will be the world premiere. No matter what generation you come from, any theatre lover is sure to love the festival’s atmosphere, and if nothing else, should definitely check out the many unique aspects The Base has to offer.

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