Can someone please tell me what exactly are "indefinable theatrics"? That's how the staff at ACT ended up describing the upcoming Awesome Cycle, a series of four different shows, running four weekends in the Bullitt Cabaret, created by the theater/music collective "Awesome." When I ask ACT's executive director Carlo Scandiuzzi, he laughs and admits that was the best he and the theater's PR department could come up with. "Even they have a hard time describing themselves! We were just sitting around saying 'What is this exactly? Is it theater, rock and roll, a cabaret?'"So I decided to ask David Nixon, who's not only a founding member of "Awesome" but also a doctor of philosophy, and so is accustomed to such thorny challenges as defining the indefinable. "When I was in high school," he said, "we did one 'play' and one 'musical.' That was 'theater.' As more people do what we do, playing music and doing comedy, sort of telling stories and sort of not, I'm guessing that in the next few years what we do won't be indefinable. They'll have a word for it."Since its founding five years ago, "Awesome" has played dozens of shows at clubs, in theaters, and even at literary readings. Their bouncy, eccentric music is often compared to that of Ween and They Might Be Giants, and they've built a considerable local fan base both in and out of the theater community. After all, who can resist seven good-looking guys in suits who play guitars, accordions, drums, typewriters, Theremins, and even less likely instruments while yelling out things like "Hey everyone! You get a free copy of Windows 2000 if you listen to the next song!" It doesn't hurt that, unlike a lot of other art bands, the songs they write are actually good, melodic, complex, tight, and fun, with an odd recurring melancholy. They've also created three original theater pieces, Delaware, NoSignal, and Here's What Happened, odd partial narratives that circle abstract ideas (a state that no one's actually visited; the "death gene") without creating something as predictable as a musical.According to Nixon, that's because the seven members of the group, all self-professed "theater geeks" with backgrounds in music, fringe theater, and sketch comedy, have such different ideas of what they want to do. "We share an artistic vocabulary, but there are lots of disagreements within the band. Some of us approach things from a linear narrative standpoint. And other members aren't so interested in that, wanting to build a beautiful piece of art and ask those questions later."The first show of the Cycle will be a dark reimagining of the '50s musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. (I look forward to comparing it with the 5th Avenue's straight-up version, opening December 3.) The second week is A Funeral for Indie Rock, featuring a coffin assembled from dental X-rays and informed by Nixon's own recent experiences with his dying grandfather. ("We had a sort of preliminary funeral for him, but instead of us all staring at a coffin, we were looking at this little old man who can barely move. It was very strange.") The third week is their Election Report and Analysis, a celebration or mourning, depending on the week's results. And the final show is The Littlest Bang, which takes on the trivial question of what universe might be left after this one eventually implodes.While there's something exhilarating about such wildly diverse topics, it does seem as though the band's ideas might be stuck in the wacky land of undergraduate bull sessions, where huge ideas yield scattershot results.When I ask Nixon if the band's matured in the past five years, he quips that they've "immatured," but then admits that there's been a major change. "We're better musicians now. Like our drummer Kirk, who was just messing around when we started—now I'm always whipping my head around mid-show and asking 'What did you just do?'" Nixon recalls watching a show by the Trucks (who are breaking up), "and they were theatrical and hilarious, a parody of ridiculous girl bands for the '80s. But they couldn't sing at all. And you sort of forgive them because they're crazy and having a good time. But if you're together for five years, you think you could work on that and get better. There are joke bands that put on bear suits and someone's dressed as a banana and they're throwing glitter and everyone laughs and it's fun. But when we perform, we get measured against other bands."
The "Awesome" Cycle ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., 292-7676, www.acttheatre.org. Opens Oct. 24. 8 p.m. Fri., 8 & 10:30 p.m. Sat. Ends Nov. 15.