Saturday, Jan. 26, 2008

Exchanging Clothing with Insurgent Theatre

By Russ Bickerstaff
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That night they would end up exchanging clothing in a house in Riverwest. I was invited, but I didn’t make it. My wife’s sister Allison had invited us out to The Social to hang out with a bunch of people who looked disinterested in some mock approximation of fashionable East Coast chic. It was Friday, January 18th. I was a few steps out of synch with the Gallery Night environment just south of downtown. Perhaps I would’ve been better off exchanging clothing with DIY theatre-types on the other side of downtown. Maybe not.

The show in question was Insurgent Theatre’s 8-1/2 x 11—a series of short plays that Insurgent had produced at Darling Hall. The show consisted entirely of plays written on one side of one standard-sized sheet of paper. There were some sixteen pieces in the program. My piece He and She and the Door stars Insurgent co-founder Tracy Doyle and a somewhat Bladwin-esque gentleman named Brad Schomburg. Schomburg and Doyle and I rehearsed the thing a few times on the second floor of the UWM union . . . it was a fun bit of drama to work on. I’m looking forward to future opportunities to work with Insurgent.

The rest of the show is an interesting mix of drama, comedy and weird abstraction. Scotty Heaton’s romantic relationship comic dialogue leads straight into a Cosmo Bosch bit that seems deliberately designed to be vaguely unhinged emotionally . . . it does the job, but I think I liked it better in rehearsals and before it was the lead-in to my piece. Once Doyle and Schombug vacate the stage, Karl Lewandowski and Matt Levinson replace them in a piece written by Tim Chrapko enitled Hickory Dunkory. I’ve told Chrapko that his piece about a children’s book author in an existential crisis is very reminiscent of a long-forgotten 1990 Dudley Moore/Paul Reiser/Daryl Hannah film called Crazy People. It’s the visual gags in Hickory that really sell it. The program follows Chrapko’s piece with a bit by Mike Burns directed by Dan Mooney which stars Chrapko as a man trying to engage a couple of strangers in small talk. It’s short and cute. James Boland stars as one of those accosted by Chrapko. I’ve been the piece that Boland’s three lines are permanently etched into my memory.

His three lines are, in order: “What?” “Who?” and “What?”It may not sound all that impressive, but Boland delivers the lines pretty convincingly.

By far the best single line in the entire program comes in ten next piece: You (Or What You Own) by Kevin Bensly and M. Sorak. The line, delivered by Brad Schomburg, reads like this, “You come to me in my dreams in the form of Charles Nelson Reilly.” Context doesn’t really help one understand the line, trust me . . . Kate Pleuss cleverly plays the opposite end of Shomburg’s dialogue in what ends up being a very entertaining couple of minutes. The show continues quite unevenly, but the unevenness makes it all feel very electrifying. 8-1/2 x 11 ends up feeing every bit as patchwork as the Darling Hall space it occupies. It’s something of a stage party in and of itself. After something like that, exchanging clothing at somebody’s house in riverwest would come as something of a let-down.

You never know were you’re going to end up after the theatre leaves the stage for the evening. Being married and feeling reasonably old, I often find myself at home after a show. 8-1/2 x 11 closes just a few hours from this posting. I’ve been invited to the cast party. Alas, I am drawn to the suburbs for opening night of the new Milwaukee Shakespeare show. I probably won’t make it to the closing cast party of the Insrgent show, but there’s always something interesting going on after a Milwaukee Shakespeare show . . .

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