By Richard Ades
Pete Bakely’s Skillet Tag is about a company team-building exercise that turns into a night of mayhem and menstruation. It’s just the kind of diversion we want and expect from MadLab for the Halloween season.
Well, with one exception: It would be nice if it came with a few more laughs.
Yes, there are chuckles and snickers, but they mostly come from Bakely’s willingness to push beyond the boundaries of good taste. For instance, characters come up with a myriad of terms for the menstrual cycle after it develops that every woman in the office is “entertaining the Red Army” simultaneously. And, oh yes, a used tampon makes a sudden appearance right before an act of onstage coitus.
Gross? Yes. Funny? Well…
One problem is that none of this makes much sense. From the beginning, it’s obvious that Bakely is more interested in setting up outrageous developments than he is in making them believable.
Why does host Jeff (Jason Sudy) insist that his underlings play “tag” by bonking each other over the heads with skillets? And when the hazardous game produces the first of the evening’s multiple fatalities, why is Neal (Chad Hewitt) nervous that the result will be a visit by murderous thugs? After all, this is a company that prints greeting cards, not a branch of the Mafia.
There’s a vague explanation that the staff long ago got bored and began venturing into dangerous sidelines, but logic clearly is not one of the playwright’s strengths.
Working under Michelle Batt’s direction on Brendan Michna’s handsome set, the actors dive gamely into the one-dimensional characters.
Gamest of all is Colleen Dunne as Becky, a secretary who seems to take a monthly trip to the edge of insanity. Others include Kathryn Miller as a recently hired attorney, Casey May as a dimwitted IT expert and Melissa Bair as the office lush. In her usual thoughtful fashion, Bair manages to suggest that her character actually has something going on beneath the surface, but she’s limited by a script that mostly confines her to swilling copious amounts of alcohol.
Also making brief appearances are Lance Atkinson and Chelsea Jordan as cops who are called (separately) to the scene after the corpses begin piling up. Incidentally, Atkinson’s cop may be unprofessional, but his female counterpart is totally incompetent. When you combine that fact with the evening’s liberal helpings of menstrually inspired mayhem, you might conclude that feminism falls somewhere under logic on Bakely’s list of attributes.
Then again, you probably won’t, because it’s hard to take any of this seriously. It’s simply an excuse to take a jokey, blood-spattered journey to the edge of propriety.
If you aren’t too squeamish about how you get there—or where that blood comes from—you might enjoy yourself.
Skillet Tag continues through Oct. 31 at MadLab Theatre and Gallery, 227 N. Third St., Columbus. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes. Tickets are $15, $13 students/seniors, $10 members. 614-221-5418 or madlab.net.