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Only Blart can judge me

Madison writer/comedian Alan Talaga’s post-apocalyptic “Paul Blart 3: Blart Of Darkness” will premiere in a November 27 live reading.

Image: Detail from the “Blart Of Darkness” poster.

It’s a story of hope, community, the fall of civilization and, of course, the mall.

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Paul Blart 3: Blart Of Darkness will make its world-wide-web debut on Friday, November 27, but it’s been years in the making. Writer Alan Talaga has never seen the 2009 Kevin James slapstick vehicle Paul Blart: Mall Cop, nor its sequel, but writing the script for Blart Of Darkness turned out to be one of the most effortless things he’s ever done.

Talaga—known around Madison for his sketch comedy, writing Isthmus‘ “Off The Square” political cartoon, and occasional journalism and commentary for both Isthmus and Tone Madison—started writing the script for Blart Of Darkness in December 2018, mostly as a joke. But from there, it grew and grew into something much bigger.

“As an exercise I wrote out a two-page outline that basically went through the story, mostly just to joke around with a friend, but then I was like, ‘Damnit, I think I can actually write this whole thing out,’” Talaga says.

The story takes place after the fall of civilization—think 50% Logan mixed with 50% Mad Max, Talaga says. In this post-apocalyptic world, the end times were preceded by the rise of e-commerce and the death of the shopping mall. As Talaga explains this future hellscape, society’s pivot to online shopping broke down social bonds. With the death of the shopping mall came the death of communal experience and the end of life as we know it. 

Now, 10 years after society’s collapse, one group hopes to rebuild—by building a shopping mall. But orchestrating the rebirth of society proves to be a challenge and the protagonists must work to protect their mall. Their only hope to save the mall and humanity is the Segway-mounted man, the pratfall-prone myth, the justice-loving legend himself, Paul Blart.

Writing this full-length script was a new endeavor for Talaga. The only other long-form piece he’d written in the past was a script called Dog Pope, which was never produced due to the astronomical costs of filming with and renting a dog, among other logistical challenges. 

Talaga has mounted his share of weird but endearingly ambitious productions. His beloved comedy variety endeavor The Dan Potacke Show ran for five years at The Frequency, incorporating live interviews with local notables, off-the-wall sketches, and a ramshackle game-show segment called the “Wheel of Fantasticness.” In 2016 he hosted a staged reading of the script of Pokémon: The First Movie. That same year, he also hosted the Madlennial Tech And Culture Forum, a conceptual sketch show that satirized Madison’s obsession with attracting startups and “young professionals.”

In writing Paul Blart 3, Talaga wanted to create something that could actually be produced. With only eight speaking parts and minimal scene changes, he knew this would be perfect for the stage.

“The hard lessons I learned from Dog Pope paved the way for Paul Blart 3: Blart Of Darkness,” he says.

Something about the Blart script lit a fire in Talaga that he knew he needed to pursue. And by March 2019, the script was done.

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Screenshot from the “Blart Of Darkness” script.

Screenshot from the “Blart Of Darkness” script.

“For good or bad, it’s the most ‘me’ thing I’ve ever written,” he said.

Finding a home for the play wasn’t a challenge. Talaga connected with Broom Street Theater’s Artistic Director, Doug Reed, to bring his Blart-flavored dreams to the stage. The play was set to premiere at Broom Street this past summer. Then, of course, 2020 happened. With the rapid and non-stop spread of COVID-19 throughout the state, country, and world, it was clear Paul Blart 3: Blart Of Darkness would not see the stage any time this year. 

“My post-apocalyptic play got canceled by the actual apocalypse,” Talaga says.  

But the modern-day apocalypse won’t stop Talaga and his dedicated crew from bringing Blart into homes everywhere this holiday season.

On Black Friday at 8 p.m., a live reading of the script will be broadcast on Broom Street’s YouTube channel, and, in true Broom Street fashion, the show will be pay-what-you-want, with half of the proceeds benefiting the theater and the other half to be distributed among the cast members. 

While the show itself is set 10 years after the fall of civilization, its parallels to present-day trials and tribulations of pandemic life can’t be ignored. A post-apocalyptic society yearning to pull itself together, existing under the hope that someone (or something) can bring back that sense of community and humanity that it once knew—sound familiar?

Despite the similarities between the setting of Blart Of Darkness and the Year of Our Lord 2020, Talaga says he did not change a single line of the script to reflect the realities of COVID. That said, he thinks the story will be more relevant than ever as we creep toward the impending changing of the seasons.

“I think it’s something that’s very, very poignant as we go into what will be a challenging winter,” Talaga says. “[The story] is very much about coming together and being together, as a people, as a civilization.”

Creating that feeling of community and togetherness is exactly what Talaga hopes to accomplish via the livestream. While the cast can’t share a stage, they can still share a screen. Turning the production into a virtual event allowed Talaga to work with his dream cast of performers with ties to Madison’s theater and comedy communities, which includes Heather Renken, Rob Matsushita, Aarushi Agni, and Casem AbuLughod. In “normal times,” that would have been impossible. 

Taking the show online also opened the door to the possibility of Talaga directing the show when it hopefully takes the stage at Broom Street in 2021, a dream that Talaga wouldn’t have been able to realize even without a 2020 pandemic. When Talaga realized in 2019 that, because of scheduling conflicts, he wouldn’t be able to direct the show in 2020, he started therapy. The idea that he would be able to direct the show in the future has brought back an immense sense of hope—something he also wants the show to do for its audience.

“It’s really about finding hope and connection again,” Talaga says. “And puns. There are a lot of puns.”

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