Monday, June 4, 2012

Dissecting A Short

A Deep Look Into Pink Banana, Jesus and A Bar

By Russ Bickerstaff
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A Pink Banana Shorts program always ends up being a little weird and unexpected in some respect. And the weird thing about it is that you never really know what part of it is going to be weird and unexpected.Invariably, there's that one short that captures your imagination and completely kills your focus on anything else that might be going on in the rest o the program. This for me is a detailed dissection of that one short. Pink Bananas shorts this time around are all centered around the general theme of the end of the world . . . or the end of a world of some sort . . . ends in general. It's a mixed program. (They all are.) Yes, there are some really bad shorts in the program, but there are some really, really good ones, too. And there's at least one or two in any program that are wells oath sitting through the rest to watch. This, then is a dissection of one of two shorts on Pink Bananas current offering that, for me, justified the rest of the program.

 

I guess the reason why I'm doing this is . . . I was trying to explain to someone why I liked this short by Andrew Rosdail so much. . . and a brief synopsis of the play doesn't really do it. Pitch this idea to anyone and it just sounds kind of lame: "It's judgement day. The end of the world. Jesus Christ walks into a bar and talks with a couple of women at a bar." Couldn't possibly sound like a weaker premise and yet . . . there's something about it that works. So here's my dissection:

 

So Jesus Christ Walks Into A Bar...

 

The lights raise on a couple of attractive women with paper bags over their heads. As this is a short comedy about the end of the world, this is a direct reference to a line from Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.  Just before the Earth is about to be destroyed, the two protagonists find themselves in a bar. The bartender asks the protagonists if there is anything they can do about it. 

"I always thought we were meant to lie down or put a paper bag over our heads or something."

"If you like."

"WIll it help?"

"No." 

 

It's kind of an obscure reference, but it's really distinct. The world is ending so a couple of girls do the only thing they can do. It might not help, but . . . the two women in question turn out to be, in fact, at a bar. One of them is the bar owner. She is played by Gemma Fitzsommons. The other is a friend of hers played by Katie Merriman. In the short, it is Merriman's character that suggests the paper bags. 

 

The dialogue that plays out between the two women is one of reluctant resignation. Everything's over. Even the 7-Eleven is closed. There's an interesting dynamic there that accurately matches some of the darker humor in Douglas Adams' work. The world is over and it's a real bummer, but what are you going to do? There's kind of a humor in that and it's kind of matched by this intriguing sense of drama. 

 

Merriman seems to be a little bit less connected with the reality of things than the bar owner. Merriman has a kind of restless exhaustion about her. Fitzsimmons is dazzlingly moody. She's going t through a lot. We see her look into the apocalypse that is the world outside the bar. She's looking offstage as she does so. She's all dressed-up waiting for tips that will never come. Between Fitzsimmons' character's haunting glances and Merriman's character's interest in seeing things inside a paper bag . . . there's a remarkably dark comedy about things that isn't laugh out loud funny, but it's a kind of exhausted, bemused humor that almost seems beyond laughter.

 

Then they get a customer. It's Jesus Christ. Played here by Michael Traynor. Traynor is a really fun actor . . . has a tendency to play figures in various states of authority quite well. He's found unique and very distinct  humor in the MC from Cabaret, the elder con artist in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and a variety of other authority figures. (Elsewhere in the Pink Banana program he's playing a slick game show host.) Here he's the ultimate authority figure for a sizable portion of the population of the United States. And Traynor elects to play down the whole authority thing . . . which actually fits really well with the central character of the new testament. He's her on business, but it's kind of the last day of his job and so there's kind of a sense of relaxation about him. 

 

It is through the figure of Christ that the author is able to do interesting little tilts against tradition. . . why is it that he would choose a traditional form to represent Christ rather than the Middle-Eastern complexion he actually would have had . . . his feelings on Revelations and a whole lot of over things feed their way through Christ in a way that feels kind of interesting. Really, though, this sort of thing has been explored before . . . the fact that it feels fresh or original at all to those of us familiar with similar work that would've been written by people like Adams and Neil Gaiman and so on . . . the fact that it feels fresh or original at all has a lot to do with Traynor's presence in the role. There IS a sense of authority about him, but he seems kind of indifferent to it, which is a very cool way to portray the guy. I love the casualness about him.

 

And there really is kind of a casualness about the whole short that feels really charming. Fitzsimmons really delivers a lot in silence here and it adds tremendously. Yes, she's wot quite a few lines and is pretty extensively drawn into the dialogue, but she brings a gravity to the stage that goes well beyond the lines and really adds to the atmosphere. 

 

And so I guess it's those intangibles . . . Traynor's casualness as Christ…Fitzsimmons' quiet gravity . . . Merriman's exhausted restlessness that animates the atmosphere beyond simple humor. Yes, there are a lot of little jokes and one-liners in here, but the show would've been kind of forgettable had it not been staged in the right way. To this end, it's probably worth pointing out that David Franz did a really good job of pulling this thing together. The script works as kind of a hybrid between deep existential drama and a cheap joke. Play it too close to one end or the other and it will feel very, very weak. And David Franz did a really good job with it. 

 

To cap it all off, the short ends with What A Wonderful World . . . Louis Armstrong could have had no idea that he was writing a closing song when he recorded that thing back in the late 1960's. I've heard that song end like . . . a half a dozen shows over the course of the past 6 or 7 years. And while that probably doesn't sound like much, Armstrong What A Wonderful World  has ended more shows staged in Milwaukee in the past half a decade or so than any other single song. Having seen some 600 shows in that time, I think I can say that on pretty good authority. I'm not complaining. It's a good song.

 

Satchmo is singing. Merriman and Fitzimmons are alone onstage. Traynor just left as Christ. The lights fade. And it's intermission. A really memorable short. Still don't think that I've been able to explain why. But I'm 1400 words in to a dissection here and I don't think I'm going to be able to do a better job than this. 

 

This is one of seven shorts on Pink Banana's One Acts: The End of the World. The show continues through June 9th, 2012 at Next Act's new space on 255 South Water Street. For ticket reservations, visit Brownpapertickets.com. 

 

A comprehensive review of the show runs in the next Sheperd-Express. 

 

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