Makes me want to shout

KITUS’ Quiet on the Set is a brilliant mix of silent film and live theater

A scene from <i>The Sheik’s Tent</i>, based on the 1921 silent film <i>The Sheik</i>.

A scene from The Sheik’s Tent, based on the 1921 silent film The Sheik.

Rated 4.0

Just when I think I’ve got my finger on the pulse of the area theater scene, that pulse starts racing in unexpected places: Virginia City, Carson City, a casino showroom and now Truckee. What next? Winnemucca? Tonopah?

For the 60-plus miles I drove this weekend, I can thank the Knights of Indulgence Theatre United States, aka KITUS. The group’s newest theatrical offering is a brilliant mix of silent film and live theater titled Quiet on the Set. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it, and that is a shame, because this production works in a big way. Here’s how:

A specially designed stage curtain is dominated by a huge white square in the middle. Music plays, a projector behind the audience clickity-clacks to life, and a short black-and-white film appears on the curtain, illustrating the basic premise of the story. A few minutes into the film, the projector cuts off and the curtain rises, where the actors pick up the scene seamlessly and show the rest of the story live on stage.

At no point in the entire production does anyone utter a sound, on film or on stage. This, more than anything else I saw, is the true indicator that KITUS is a top-notch troupe of actors. In much local theater, amateur actors tend to rely heavily on the dialogue to carry the performance, but the members of KITUS propel the plot and convey every nuance of emotion without speaking a single word.

The proof par excellence of this talent comes in the second skit of the evening, The Wind. The Wind was originally filmed in 1928 and, according to KITUS’ program, “MGM single-handedly ruined the film with a happy ending.” No such nonsense here. KITUS’ version asks, “What would happen if two complete strangers were forced to marry? What would that first day at home together be like?” And the answer is: “excruciatingly uncomfortable.”

Amy Pinto and Brent Lindsay are phenomenal as the newlyweds. Pinto trembles in wide-eyed terror, darting awkwardly about the set like an adopted cat in a new home. Lindsay stares at Pinto in lust and awe, pacing the set indecisively and occasionally letting loose a frightened, hopeful grin. The cliché, “You could cut the tension with a knife,” doesn’t come close; it would take a chainsaw to hack through the vibes wafting over the audience during this scene.

Luckily for my nerves, Quiet on the Set offers plenty of comic relief as well. The first skit, The Sheik’s Tent, based on the 1921 film The Sheik, is a funny take on the legend that was Rudolph Valentino. The man’s legendary sex appeal is the basis for a silly bout of physical comedy of Looney Tunes proportions. The final skit, Café Infidelité, is a tribute to the comedic heroes of silent film, including Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. And then there’s The Doctor’s Cabinet, which earns major points for its gross-out factor. You’ll laugh. You’ll groan. You’ll never eat anything described as “finger sandwiches” again.

But I’d have to say that my favorite part of the performance was a short film shown between The Doctor’s Cabinet and Café Infidelité, a very quirky, very European film that’s not even listed on the program. I can’t even begin to describe it properly, but it involves the phrase, "This is my pee yard!" Just doesn’t get any better than that.