Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011

The Best Of All Possible Goats & Monkeys

The reading of the intergenerational drama by Alice Austen

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The Reading

The usual type of crowd had shown-up for the latest Goats & Monkeys reading, It was a mix of different people in the local theatre business. The energy was a bit muted. It was a Monday night reading. A talented group of actors stood before music stands on the Stackner Cabaret’s set for its Hank Williams revue Nobody Lonesome For Me. I had a chance to talk to a few people. The familiar face of an evidently British woman I’d never met smiled and waved hello. As far as I could make out, she had mistaken me for Giuseppe—an Italian puppeteer. This had caused me to mistake her for an American choreographer. When a stranger smiles and waves at you, you don’t ask questions. It’s rude and awkward not to wave back. The mistaken identity was extra . . .

 

The Best of All Possible Worlds

The crowd had come in to attend a Goats And Monkeys fundraiser—a reading of a new play by Alice Austen. The mid-century service station set for the Rep’s Hank Williams retrospective show served as a slightly incongruous backdrop for the reading. Alice Austen’s The Best of All Possible Worlds turns out to be an inter-generational drama told from a baby boomer’s perspective. The talented Mark Ulrich played a baby boomer priest who has taken to looking after his father (an elderly World War II vet played by Mark Metcalf.)

Metcalf and Ulrich were able to bring together the two characters quite nicely in a show that also featured Clayton Hamburg on guitar accompaniment (composed by Josh Schmidt,) Amy J. Carle as the baby boomer’s thoroughly charming late mother in flashbacks and Laura Gordon as the boomer’s ex-wife. Mostly just there to read the narration, Eric Schabla also put in an appearance as a military man come to inform the boomer that his son is missing in action—evidently serving in the air force in Desert Storm, as the contemporary action of the play takes place during the original Bush administration.

Taking into account that a large part of my impression of the script may have been limited by the fact that it was a reading, I still feel as though the script leans too heavily on exposition. These characters spend a hell of a lot of time talking about things that never happen onstage. This wouldn’t be nearly as frustrating as it is were it not for the fact that the characters themselves are actually quite interesting. The veteran of one generation is no longer able to look after himself—his son has become a man of the cloth. Both men are without the women in their lives. The veteran’s wife passed away. The boomer’s wife passed away to Canada. There is a son we never see . . . only hearing from him briefly at the end of the show—in a letter from before he went missing. These are all really interesting people. There’s nothing more annoying than watching interesting people talk about the past. There is so precious little that passes between these characters that isn’t deeply about things which have already happened.

Without much going on in the present in the course of the script, The Best of All Possible Worlds comes across as an autopsy on an aspect of generational dynamics from the end of the last century. It’s a provocative look at some of the forces that shaped individual lives over the course o the 20th century as seen through a boomer’s eyes, but it lacks enough fresh interaction to register as much more than a casual look back.

Kudos to Goats And Monkeys for at least trying something new. In order to maintain a sustainable theatre community in Milwaukee, new work must continue to be explored. Here’s looking forward to more events like this . . .

Check the G&M website for more upcoming events.

 

 

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