Friday, July 16, 2010

Nicholas Cialdini's Boomtown

One Hour of Light Sketch Comedy and a Little More at the Alchemist Theatre

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Milwaukee native Nicholas Cialdini studied philosophy at Marquette. Now he’s writing comedy. Last night at the Alchemist Theatre, he opened production of Boomtown--a one-hour sketch comedy show. The single hour with no intermission passes quickly by with more than a few genuine laughs and more than a little sophistication.

Subtitled “The Baby Boomer's Guide to Squandering a Century,” one might expect some pretty harsh satire of the generation that spent a few decades recovering from the mistakes of the Greatest Generation. Actually, the hour Cialdini puts together isn’t quite so narrowly focused. Skits flit by pretty quickly with a few leveling pretty heavy generational satire . . . but there is nearly as much comedy here about Milwaukee culture as there is about the boomers. Cialdini may have spent some time studying in Second City in Chicago, but his love for Milwaukee culture is apparent throughout the hour. The show even ends with a musical tribute, “Milwaukee, My Home Town.”

Cialdini’s one-hour comedy journey features a pretty even mix of sketch comedy. Some of it is extremely straightforward. There are moments of somewhat inspired, truly surreal humor. The best bits of boomer-related humor include a quick parody of Rebel Without A Cause (the brief parody tends to stick with the most obvious humor, but like so much else of the lighter stuff, the cast delivers it with enough comic charisma to carry it through to the end.) Near the end of the program, we get a look at the generation from a different angle—a dialogue between competitive retired boomers in the suburbs that stands as one of the more quietly sophisticated bits in the entire show.

In one of the show’s few departures from Cialdini-written material, ensemble member Dylan Bolin delivering that brutally honest baby boomer high school graduation speech that my generation (the one they call “X”) never actually got. This was far better than any of Bolin’s material occasionally heard on the WKLH morning show. Bolin is an admirably funny performer as well . . . managing to pull laughs out of some of the less-sophisticated bits of Cialdini’s material with sheer comic charisma. Of particular note here is a rather clever bit in which Bolin plays a workin’ class Milwaukeean searching for relief from back pain. His path to relief becomes a journey to enlightenment as he enters the holistic medical practice of a young woman played by Mequon native Kristina Felske. The back pain-suffering Milwaukeean could’ve read pretty flat, but Bolin renders the character with enough sympathetic charisma to keep him interesting. The holistic healing sketch is one of the more original bits in the show, casting a satiric look at one of the less-explored cultural impacts the generation has had on contemporary society.

Felske also wrote a couple of things for the show, including one of the more surreal bits about a gnome hiding under a bar stool at Wolski’s Tavern. Hands down the most surreal moment in the entire show was a dream analysis skit which features Tim Higgins as a client of a psychiatrist played by Sharon Nieman-Koebert. The dream involves desk work that is actually over a ledge. Is he working or is he killing himself one day at a time? As heavy as this could seem, the humor is pretty deftly offset by non-sequiturs. A pencil is replaced for beef jerky. Chicago sketch guy Grant Collins shows-up as Tony Danza from there it gets a little weird.

Cialdini’s sense of weird doesn’t always try quite so hard as the dream analysis sketch. Relatively early on in the program, Tim Higgins and Cynthia Kmak are playing a pair of potential lovers in a darkened living room. In soap opera-like melodramatic tones, she tells him that she is engaged to a very, very short man. He is upset as he has feelings for her. Somewhere in the conversation, he reveals the reason why she hasn’t had electricity in a very long time. The full reality of just how odd that one was didn’t quite hit me until I was on my way home . . . perhaps it could’ve been amplified a bit by classic overly-dramatic soap opera music cues . . . speaking of which, Joe Hite’s work as  musical director for the show added a fair bit of audio backdrop for what is essentially a set-less, costume-less stage show. A bit of a M.A.S.H. theme song here, a little bit of an old Journey tune there at just the right moments add some style to the show. 

 

BOOMTOWN: The Baby Boomer's Guide to Squandering a Century  closes with its final of two performances on July 22nd at the Alchemist Theatre in Bay View. At $10 per ticket, audiences are only paying roughly 16-17 cents/minute. It may not be brilliant all the way through, but one gets quite a bit for $10 here. It’s well worth a late Thursday in Bay View.  

 

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