FROM ITS INVOCATION of Mean Girls to a soundtrack that dips into pump-up lady jams of the late '90s (I hadn't thought about Shirley Manson in YEARS, you guys), Action/Adventure Theatre's latest serialized comedy, No Man's Land, is a soothing balm for those of us who genuinely enjoy the teen comedies of a certain decade—I'm not talking about movies from the respectable John Hughes lineage, but something more akin to the trashy Tara Reid oeuvre, or the subtly smart movies of Amy Heckerling. If you grew up when Freddie Prinze Jr. was the nonthreatening love object plastered all over Teen People (this was before Teen Vogue, alas), you'll find a lot to like in No Man's Land, starting with the writing: Brenan Dwyer, Leon Anderson, and Sara Jean Accuardi have imbued the stock tale of the Catholic all girls' high school misadventures of a would-be adolescent anthropologist (Zoë Rudman) with absurd humor and Angela Chase-adjacent quests for teenage identity.
When No Man's Land was selected last year from a lineup of potential new shows during Action/Adventure's Pilot Season, I wasn't at all surprised, given Dwyer's directing work with the sketch comedy webseries Potty Talk and last spring's Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet) at Northwest Classical Theatre Company—a production that broke the company's stodgy formula with contemporary source material and an all-female cast. No Man's Land isn't as polished as that play, but it isn't meant to be: Action/Adventure's "semi-improvised" format is a faster, looser approach, with all the benefits and pitfalls that entails. The night I attended, a scene between Rudman and a loquacious nun (Scott Parker), though funny, was overlong. But sharper moments—"soon-to-be young stepmoms" employed as an insult, a reference to "D'Angelo muscles," a lecture from a priest that plagiarizes early Britney Spears, and everything said by Lauren Modica as Rudman's cape-wearing lockermate—are well worth the price of admission.
Here's my confession: Though I've attended many of Action/Adventure's serialized shows since I started covering Portland theater, as with my Netflix graveyard of abandoned TV shows (sorry, Jessica Jones!), I haven't always made it past the first few episodes. But I was 13 when Ryan Murphy debuted his first high school comedy, Popular, and Anna Paquin taught Rachael Leigh Cook how to pluck her eyebrows in She's All That. No Man's Land is a show I would watch.
No Man's Land
Action/Adventure Theatre, 1050 SE Clinton, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, $12-15, through April 3, actionadventure.org