Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sex, Drugs and the Pink Banana

Pink Banana Continues Its Annual Short Theatre Tradition

By Russ Bickerstaff
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With the last days of Spring filtering through the city, one act shows and revues of various kinds begin to pop-up with greater than usual frequency. The annual Pink Banana On-Act show arrives this year at the Off-Broadway Theatre. With a one-act show, one is never precisely certain what to expect. There’s always a strange kind of energy floating around as moods shift gears through multiple actors in multiple different plots that play out over the course of a two hours stretch on Water Street.

This year’s one-act show Sex, Drugs and The American Way has a slicker, more polished feel than in previous years. The show opens with an establishing video on the large rear-projection screen in the middle of a large backdrop. The Set Artist Evan Crain had a rather interesting solution to the challenges of building a single, unifying piece for over half a dozen different shorts. A central rear-projection screen is surrounded by smaller, iconic backlit tiles—nearly a different one for each short. It  gives the production a really stylish visual feel—a bit like that of an old carnival. Being a child of the ‘80’s, the whole set-up reminded me a bit of the big board from Press Your Luck . Aside from the strange urge to scan the board for whammies, the overall visual feel of the production is clean and consistent. Set changes are more or less seamless.

The actual content of the show is  the same kind of mixed bag one would expect from any shorts program. This year’s crop of one-acts is kind of heavy on the use of monologue. A good part of the fun here is the unexpected, and since none of the shorts were actually bad, here are a few quick impressions of the program:

The Bombs Fall—A.B. Wiednenhoeft’s interpersonal pos-apocalyptic drama. There’s real potential here. The short makes for an interesting introduction to the evening. So often, shorts go for comedy. This one went for a stylish discussion of basics between two people at the end of the world. .  .serious, stylish and visceral. Jose Rodriguez and Peggy Strang play only known survivors of a catastrophe of some sort.

Pecking Order

Pecking OrderPatrick Beck’s comic drama about struggle between socio-economic classes among other things . . . Gwen Zupan plays a woman waiting on a few businessmen in a diner. The first part feels a bit cynical and clichéd, but the things get considerably more sophisticated in the second part. The complications that set-in make this one of Beck’s best. Businessmen included UWM student Mark Puchinsky and promising Russian-born newcomer Sasha Gainullin. Rob Maass plays the moral center of the three. The dynamic between businessmen and waitress becomes quite interesting by the end of the short. 

Truck Stop—Lisa Golda’s monologue features a trucker having a beer while he waits for traffic to start moving again during heavy gridlock. The monologue will be done by Adam Gaulke, Vincent Figueroa and Nick Firer on alternating nights. Firer did the monologue opening night. Halfway into Pecking Order, the lights dim . . .Firer walks-in looking distinctly trucker-like . . . gruff and rugged with a lawn chair in one arm and a cooler in the other. He sets-up, offers a beer to people sitting front and center. As I’d already had a beer with Stanley Kowalski not too long ago, I declined the beer. Twice in one month. The monologue is simple with a touch of wistful, subtle complexity. Firer proves once again that he can render serious drama with admirable depth. It’d be interesting to see Figueroa in the role as I sociate him much more with comedy. I’m not as familiar with Adam Gaulke, so I’m not sure what he’ll add to the monologue . . .

Romantic Chemistry

Romantic ChemistryMy short about a pair of people on their first date and the chemical baggage they bring with them to it . . . a bit too close to this one to say much about it, but Jose Rodriguez has interesting instincts as an actor. As this and the Bombs Fall are his first two appearances onstage ever, it would be interesting to see what Rodriguez might do in the future. Also relatively new to the stage, recent Marquette graduate Bethany Ligocki has a magnetic stage presence. I’m looking forward to seeing her in more shows as well.

Time And PlaceA pair of monologues leads-in to a dialogue that feels somewhere between Harrower’s Blackbird and Reitman’s take on Up In The Air. A man (Randall Anderson) and a woman (Sammi Dittloff) have an exchange at an airport. As with Truck Stop, this is an opportunity to see someone who has done a lot of comedy do something more serious. Playwright Timothy X. Troy’s poetic intro monologue as performed by Randall Anderson was almost haunting. Anderson shows a great deal of depth here. Hopefully there’s an even mix of drama and comedy on the horizon for Anderson.

Odd Ducks

Odd DucksPossibly the most commercially viable of the shorts, Neil Haven’s light comedy about a group of ducks performing in the fountain at the Belaggio in Las Vegas seemed to be an audience favorite opening night. The clever thing here is that, while the comedy is all very light (and Haven exhausts every uhh . . lame duck joke imaginable,) there’s actually an intellectual level to it that’s kind of fun to think about—everything in Vegas is entertainment, so even the ducks are in show business. Vegas is artificial, but is it not more real than the natural world? What is real? Rob Maass endearingly plays a duck in comic duck who does impressions. He’s having an existential crisis in a world populated by different performance archetypes. There’s the hack comic duck (Kristofer E. Holly) the sexy exotic dancer duck (Desiree Gibson) and the new guy who just flew in from the Midwest (Joe Picchetti) One of Haven’s better pieces thus far.

An Artful MarriageMartha Patterson’s pair of monologues about a couple who have been married for years. Mark Medrek plays a wealthy man who wants to get into art. Katie Merriman plays his wife—a woman who wishes she could have traveled when she was younger. Another wistful moment in the program, which actually ends up being really well balanced between comedy and drama. It’s pretty rare that a shorts show would have this kind of balance.

Foreign Policy

Foreign Policy—Mark Puchinsky plays a foreigner juxtaposed against a very distinctly American family. This one gets kind of weird and ends kind of abruptly . . .

On the whole, this is a fun, relatively smooth evening of low-impact variety theatre that should play well to people looking for something different in the theatre district as Spring turns into Summer.

Pink Banana’ Theatre Company's Sex, Drugs and the American Way runs through June 5th at the Off-Broadway Theatre. 

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