Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tales From The Dugout

By Russ Bickerstaff
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After a few appetizers and a bottle of Ambergeddon, the four of us walked a few blocks out to the Broadway Theatre Center. It was opening night for Pink Banana’s Tales From The Dugout—this year’s Pink Banana Spring shorts show. The Studio Theatre was fairly packed for opening night of the late night show.

Tales From The Dugout
consists of eight individual shorts about various aspects of relationships. Any individual short isn’t enough to be very satisfying in and of itself, but the sum total of the entire 8 shorts makes for a really entertaining evening of live theatre.

The eight shorts range from abstract to realistic—from drama to comedy. Pink Banana takes quite a risk with that kind of range . . . the mood onstage modulates rather quickly from one short to the next. The order and pacing of the shorts appears to have been planned-out to ensure a smooth journey for the audience from beginning to end. There didn’t seem to be many problems with the pacing and rhythm of the show opening night. Any jarring transition between on moment to the next could’ve been the result of opening night stiffness. Considering the size of the show and the number of people involved, the show runs with remarkable efficiency. Each scene change between shorts is covered by an interstitial video segment introducing the cast and director of the next piece. The program as a whole ends up feeling very

The show opens with a trio of comic shorts. Mike Q. Hanlon’s Along For The Ride is a clever conversation between a couple and a hitchhiker. In addition to some rather sharply witty Hanlon dialogue, the production features an on the road driving video in the background that gives the short a feel reminiscent of old films that feature rear-projection driving scenes . . . Suburban Statues is Laura Lynn MacDonald’s comic dialogue between two women in suburbia. Alice Wilson and Jamie Ansley have a fun rapport in what turns into a surprisingly insightful comedy.  Muffin’s Man ended up getting the most energetic reaction from the audience. Patrik Beck’s script is dynamic enough that any reasonably competent cast would be good in it, but Pink Banana had the good fortune of getting a group of some of UWM’s best recent graduates working on it. Michael Cotey directs Rob Maass, Daniel Koester and Travis A. Knight in a fantastic end to the comic sketches of the first half.

Tales From The Dugout makes it to intermission with A Squirrel’s Nest—an ambitious, abstract emotional drama written and directed by Stephanie A.B. Wiedenhoeft. Libby Amato, Cathy Beck, Laurie Birmingham and Rachelravenlillysophia play out various dramas that draw women from disparate backgrounds together. The play flowed with a dreamy Greek tragedian chorus kind of a feel. It’s interesting, but it feels a bit disjointed coming right after the comic crescendo that precedes it. It’d probably have a stronger effect in a program of dramatic shorts . . . it’s probably the only piece to be significantly effected by the order of the program.

The program returns from intermission with Alison Niles’ Subject to Change. The drama about women at war in the modern world is fascinating. Jes Hayes, Sammi Dintloff, Melissa Murphy and Chris Klopatek star in a short that almost seems substantial enough to be expanded into a feature-length piece. There’s some really interesting and provocative dramatic stuff here, but it seemed to me to feel kind of intense coming right back from an intermission preceded by Wiedenhoeft’s dreamy drama.

The program shifts back into comedy with Gus & Lissette a fun little bit written by Anne Asher about an aging mob couple. Jason Waszak plays an old mobster who has just been laid off. He’s telling his wife (Melissa Kieth) the bad news. There are few direct punch lines, but the premise is funny enough to be entertaining.

Then there was my piece . . . Unrequited Hate. Having written it, I’m in no position to critique the short. Nick Firer and Adrian F. Feliciano play boss and employee respectively. It's an office comedy directed by Fjosh Redbeard. I had fun with it. Firer and Feliciano added just enough of their own voice to the piece to make it . . . exactly what I’d expected it to be. Oddly enough, I knew the script and I knew the actors and I knew the director and everything turned out great. It was really satisfying to see these two bring a script to the stage that I’d written last December. The short will have had a 6 month life span from conception to closing performance.

Jessica Betts wrote and directed the penultimate piece on the evening . . . A Family Thing. Gwen Zupan and Ashlea Woodley play sisters trying to figure out what to do with their ailing mother in a touching family drama. Liz Whitford has the distinction of plying a nurse in this short and a therapist in the evening’s final short—The Interpreters. Written by Rose Wasielewski, The Interpreters involves couples therapy with clinical interpreters translating what a man and a woman are REALLY saying to each other. 

Pink Banana’s Tales From The Dugout runs through April 11th at the Broadway Theatre Center Studio Theatre. The next major shorts program will be In Tandem’s Romantic Fools: an evening of short comic pieces about relationships entirely written by Rich Orloff April 30 -  May 17 at the 10th Street Theatre.

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