A&E

DVDA’ layered on the sounds, images and absurdist laughs

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Ernest Hemmings and Breon Jenay act with near-seamless chemistry.
Photo: Spencer Burton

You’re in self-checkout, staring at the useless hunk of machinery in front of you when those foul, monotone words come out. “An item has been removed from the bagging area.” What was supposed to be a quick stop turns into an ordeal as you’re forced to flag down a disgruntled attendant. The machine nags you again. “Please remove item from the bagging area.”

That familiar annoyance is how TSTMRKT’s absurdist sketch comedy, DVDA, begins. Written by Ernest Hemmings and performed by Hemmings and Breon Jenay, DVDA is set-less, prop-less theater synced with pre-recorded audio and looping film projections. As you can imagine, such time restraints create a tricky challenge, and the entire performance hinges on the duo’s ability to act (and react) in perfect time against the show’s visual and sound elements. Debuted as a one-off on December 11, this is only part one of a two-part series.

In that same skit, tensions rise as the checkout kiosk becomes unruly—then downright crass. “Show me your dick,” the kiosk demands. Seated in camping chairs inside the Attic, the audience erupts with laughter. Hemmings obliges, shedding all but his boxers when the scene ends. DVDA is littered with offbeat humor—goofy, unexpected, dark and cynical. Throughout the show, pre-recorded scenes of Smith’s grocery store and Downtown Las Vegas are projected onto a cloth screen behind the duo, adding dimension and context to their performance. Unbeknownst to him, my roommate even made an appearance in one of the recordings.

Seeing said roomie onscreen only added to the absurdity, and throughout the next hour things got increasingly bizarre. From awkward online dating and having serious bowel issues on an airplane to ordering chicken nuggets at the drive-thru, each unpredictable scene is delivered with near-seamless chemistry. As each starts with a somewhat relatable theme, they get more outlandish as the clock ticks on. In one scene, an angry sex-worker tries to return a dress at the mall, only to find out that the manager is dead and the assistant manager has sold her soul to the Devil.

“This was like a test run-through. In about four more weeks or so we’ll redo some stuff and add more material and take out things we didn’t think worked really well,” says Hemmings, who wrote, recorded and filmed all the components for part one of DVDA within a matter of weeks. And while the performance seemed to be well received, a high level of risk went into creating it. “There’s supposed to be four screens,” Hemmings told me after the show. “We were gonna just do it with two, and then the one projector failed tonight, so we were like, eff it.”

TSTMRKT will continue to tweak DVDA until a January 26 performance in Pittsburgh. “We’re trying to break into the NACA [National Association for Campus Activities] market,” Hemmings says, “so we can try to quit our corporate living and just do that.”

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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