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Appearing in The Jar are (from left) Nikki Smith as Cricket, Greg Payne as Praying Mantis, Laura Spires as Julie, Travis Horseman as Daddy Longlegs and Kim Martin as Karen (photo by Michelle Diceglio)

Appearing as insects caught in The Jar are (from left) Nikki Smith as Cricket, Greg Payne as Praying Mantis, Laura Spires as Julie, Travis Horseman as Daddy Longlegs and Kim Martin as Karen (photo by Michelle DiCeglio)

By Richard Ades

Seven plays in less than an hour? It must be some kind of record.

Director Amanda Bauer wastes no time with Black Night, one of the three collections of playlets in MadLab’s Theatre Roulette 2016. On opening night, she didn’t even bother introducing the evening, let alone individual works.

At the end of each play, the stage lights are simply turned off, the scenery is rearranged and the lights come back on, all in the space of a few seconds. The efficiently is dazzling.

What goes on between the scene changes is equally impressive, at least as far as the production is concerned. The acting and pacing are spot on, and many of the costumes are ingenious.

And the writing? Not everything works equally well, but most of the plays earn extra points for originality.

Let’s take them in order.

MooMaid by Rick Park: Josh Kessler plays Mitchell, a dad who can’t stop boasting about his unseen daughter. But something seems off. He drops a lot of F-bombs, and he starts stripping off clothes to prepare for an activity that isn’t revealed until the end. The piece expertly builds a sense of dread that turns out to be justified.

The Prodigal Cow by Mark Harvey Levine: A calf (Laura Spires) is thrilled to be the only farm animal invited to her owner’s dinner party. If you know the New Testament at all, you’ll probably guess where this one is going. It’s also weighed down with weak puns. And how come the calf actually looks something like a cow, but her best friend, the kid (Nikki Smith), looks nothing like a goat?

Absolutely Unbelievable by Bella Poynton: Larry (Greg Payne) goes on a radio show claiming to be a time traveler from five years in the future. The piece has some amusing moments as hosts Sam and Anna (Alex Green and Kyle Jepson) beg for news of technological advancements beyond Larry’s iPhone 8. Disappointingly, though, they never bring up the one question the average American would have asked first: Who’s the next president?

The Lovers by Kirsten Easton: A man and a woman (Chad Hewitt and Kim Martin) try to recall the details of their first meeting while two shrouded figures (Travis Horseman and Colleen Dunne) act out the event. Though nicely performed, the piece gives us little reason to care whether the two have a future together.

Date #3 by Alex Dremann: Will they or won’t they? Ethan and Lynne (Jason Sudy and Spires) deal with that question at the end of the all-important third date. Laughs are provided by various passers-by played by Jepson and Kessler—especially Kessler’s Frenchman, whose accent is as amusingly stereotypical as his philosophical wisdom about the ways of the heart.

A Couple of Inappropriate Jokes and a Story (or Two) by Kelly Lusk: Hewitt plays a man who alternately tells jokes and shares personal tragedies. The incongruous mix makes this the evening’s most unconventional work, but it also means the piece never develops enough gravitas to pull off its would-be shocking ending.

In the Jar by Levine: The evening’s funniest play is about various bugs who get caught by a young boy and imprisoned in a jar—a jar that, they’re terrified to learn, has no air holes. Payne’s unctuous praying mantis gets the most laughs, but all of the insects sport personalities that are as entertaining as their costumes.

Other collections in Theatre Roulette 2016 are Red Night (featuring works by various playwrights) and Green Night (featuring six plays by Erik Sternberger). See below for specific dates and times.

Theatre Roulette 2016 continues through May 28 at MadLab Theatre and Gallery, 227 N. Third St., Columbus. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, plus 2 and 4 p.m. May 28. Running time for Black Night: 55 minutes. Remaining dates: Green Night: 8 p.m. May 19 and 27, plus 4 p.m. May 28; Black Night: 8 p.m. May 20 and 28; and Red Night: 8 p.m. May 21 and 26, plus 2 p.m. May 28. Tickets are $15, $13 students/seniors, $10 members. 614-221-5418 or madlab.net.

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