In some ways, 34 West Theater Company is an anomaly within Charleston’s theater community. Its founders, Stephen Wayne and Jeff Querin, not only act in every show, they write, direct, do sound design, lighting design, set design, and anything else a production would require for every single show.
“Sometimes you get the luxury as an actor to tell somebody that something is missing,” says Querin. “When we’re actors and we tell somebody that something is missing, that means we have to find it.”
"Super Freak," the newest production that runs through May 26, still has the team's trademark comedy, musical numbers and good vibes, but it’s different than anything they’ve done before.
“It’s our take on a spy thriller,” says Querin. “We got sucked down this path of old 1960s James Bond films where there’s a kind of intrigue that’s going on in the background and a lot of action. And we thought, what would it be like to make a stage version of something like that, where these unwitting characters wind up in an extraordinary circumstance? So that’s kind of where we find ourselves.”
Two of the main characters in "Super Freak" are Largo Cutting, played by Wayne, and Marty Funkyballoo, played by Querin.
“Marty is optimistic, wide-eyed and a little naive,” says Wayne. “Largo Cutting is the aging soap opera star with a heart of gold. So he’s his own little buffoon. But somehow he is able to help Marty with his problem and give him counsel along the way.”
Most 34 West productions feature three or four actors, but for this one, Wayne and Querin are the only two gracing the stage. This isn’t uncharted territory.
They’ve done plenty of two-man shows in the past, “but this one is probably the most technically complicated,” says Wayne. “There are a lot of moving parts. We play different characters and there are a lot of different settings. We’re on a plane, we’re running through a bayou, and then we’re in an interrogation room. It kind of is all over the map.”
Since they founded 34 West in 2001, Wayne and Querin have written every production. But that doesn’t mean it’s gotten easier.
“You’d think there was a formula we follow or a template,” says Wayne, “but I think what I’m finding is that with each show we learn more things. We learn that the pacing can be quicker or there doesn’t need to be as much exposition.
"The challenge with this one is there are two people. How do we maintain a high-energy show when we have to do it all ourselves? We have done other two-man shows that haven’t been as fast-paced and for some reason that’s easier, but all the things I wanted to incorporate into this one are the exact things that made it difficult,” he says.
Challenging as it has been, the duo at 34 West have brought all the elements together for "Super Freak." And part of the beauty of creating an all-original production is how it takes on a life of its own when it gets in front of an audience.
“We try to make sure that all of the structure and the story and the characters are there," Querin says, "and then it’s kind of like you breathe life into it and it becomes its own thing.”
A spy-thriller-romantic-comedy-musical certainly sounds like its own thing.