You could never call Thaddeus Phillips boring. The New York-based East High and Colorado College grad has become the toast of the fringe-theater crowd, and he's done it all by his lonesome, with little more than a healthy imagination and a knapsack full of props that come to life in his nimble fingers. Phillips is the moment in an experiment when the test tube blows -- four parts charm and an ounce of sheer theatrical bravado, the guy who emotes on stage in a kids' swimming pool or plays out his battles with plastic soldiers, a tap dancer who acts, an actor who tap dances, and, yes, totally one of a kind. When Phillips returns to town this week for a new round of fun at Buntport Theater, count on him to mystify, amaze and crack up his audiences. Not bad for a night's work.
In his newest performance, !El Conquistador!, Phillips's stage persona drifts in and out of a Colombian telenovela, or soap opera, and -- it almost goes without saying -- his story unfolds in the most unexpected and ingenious ways. Though Phillips is the only actor seen on stage, he's joined by a videotaped cast of actual Colombian soap-opera stars led by the popular Victor Mallarino. Phillips was drawn into the world of telenovelas with help from creative partner Tatiana Mallarino (Victor's niece) and traveled to Colombia, where he met with and filmed the other actors in their homes. "They loved it," he says. "It actually became a cool thing for them to do. The actors get tired of doing soap operas."
Performed in Spanish with projected English subtitles, the piece revolves around an apartment doorman, Polonio, who communicates by video phone with building residents whose improvised performances were recorded in Bogota. Sudsy plots drenched in classical and historical themes emerge almost unwittingly, drawing on Shakespeare and the conquest of the New World. "I try to tie together real people's lives with history and television, to make all those connections and disconnections," Phillips explains. With a little bit of that old Thaddeus Phillips magic, the mundane turns epic.