Monday, March 23, 2009

A Casual Sunday with Barney & Bee and Berzerk!!

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Generally speaking, I like to avoid seeing two shows in a single day. Invariably, the schedule for a weekend gets a bit compressed and I’ll have to see a matinee and an evening show on a single Saturday or Sunday or something. It happens about once per month. (Next time looks to be approaching in mid-April . . .) Usually when I see two shows in a day, I can expect to spend at least 1/8 of that day in theatre seats. Yesterday I saw two shows. Total time at the theatre yesterday? Only two hours. Weird . . .


First up:

the matinee performance of Renaissance Theaterworks’ show Barney & Bee. It’s a farce from 1970 written by Michael Frayn . . . a quick-change comedy starring Laura Gray and Norman Moses. Frayn had written the original one-act (originally entitled Chinamen) for Lynn Redgrave and Richard Briers—a solid, if uninspired bit of comedy that went on to inspire Frayn’s much more accomplished, feature-length hit Noises Off! Laura Gray is a natural for the play, having previously been in productions of Noises Off! with both the Madison and Milwaukee Reps. Renaissance's Barney & Bee runs through April 12th. Total time at the theatre: One hour with no intermission.

It was interesting seeing the cleverly re-named Renaissance Theaterworks one-act as a reference point between two productions of Noises Off! Carte Blanche Theatre’s recent production of it at the beginning of the month was amazing . . .  I’ll be seeing Sunset Playhouse’s production in a couple of months . . . my review of Barney & Bee appears in this week’s Shepherd-Express.


Then:

I had only a couple of hours after returning home from Barney & Bee to head out to the Alchemist Theatre to see March’s BERZZERK!!! Alamo Basement and Insurgent Theatre put together a pretty solid show with unedited Franken-scripts pieced together by eight of us writers, at least four of whom were Hanlons who were unable to appear at the performance due to geographical deficiencies having to do with being in Florida . . . The Hanlons wrote the first play, with Mike, David, Amy and Paul Hanlon writing in ten minute stretches for two rounds each to come up with a twisted sitcom-like show complete with an audience-initiated laugh track . . .the resulting short entitled Benefits kind of reminded me of a bit from Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers . . . cute, but not particularly coherent . . . but held-up remarkably well against the 39 year-old bit of light comedy by Michael Frayn  that I’d seen earlier in the day . . . Peter J. Woods and Liz Shipe played Hot Carla and Hot Tony . . . sibling lovers who were also serial killers, as near as I could make out. Their victims included John Kuehne and Kurt Jensen in three different roles. The whole things was stages as a sitcom with applause and laughter cards being held-up in response to audience reactions. It was all a bit surreal.


After intermission, there was the short I’d worked on with Jason Hames, Kurt Jensen and Peter J. Woods. Our creation, exhaustively entitled Of Swings and Basements . . . Or An Inter-dimensional Mustache Ride was directed by Ben Turk, who hosted the show and also did most of the tech for the program. The plot that had assembled itself between ten minute stretches under the influence of myself and three others was almost daringly incoherent . . . with interesting opportunities for many of the actors. Tracy Doyle had an opportunity to ride a swing and wear a mustache . . . Jason Hames had an opportunity to deliver some of the lines he’d written, (both in American AND British accents, as I recall.) John Porter, who is a comic talent worth the $5 one would pay for admission to a show like this all by himself, brilliantly delivers the monologue Peter J. Woods wrote to wrap it all up. Monika Walbergh was there as well, getting hit with a surprisingly light lead pipe at one point and subsequently refusing to use the swing . . . in the end, I think the Hanlons' show was more coherently surreal, but we may have definitely outweirded them  . . not that that  was the original intention. The sheer variety of performances achieved in two shorts in less than an hour was pretty fantastic. All in all a good time for anyone in the mood for something strange at the end of the weekend.

The next BERZERK!!! arrives at the Alchemist Theatre Sunday, April 26th.

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