Theater Thursday: Review: Sketchbook Reincarnate (Collaboraction)


Sketchbook Reincarnate

Flat Iron Arts Bldg., 1579 N. Milwaukee (map)
thru July 15  |  tickets: $10-$20   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
        Read entire review


There’s something for everyone at Sketchbook Festival



Collaboraction presents
Sketchbook Reincarnate
     12th Annual Sketchbook Festival

Review by K.D. Hopkins

To say that there is something for everyone at Sketchbook Reincarnate is quite accurate. Many eras and many genres wind through five shows. Some of the shows are exhilarating and others felt like pleasant time fillers. Collaboraction explores the human experience in documentary and comic styles of sketches. There is no program longer than an hour and there is one program comprised of the original Sketchbook format of the seven-minute sketch.

Themes of death, loss, and carving out a place in the world dominate this year’s offering. The standouts surprised me as I was expecting more of a comedy experience. “Abduction” is the story of one man’s loss of his wife to purported aliens. John Zinn (Gil) plays the man with a palpable sense of grief. Gil rolls in a media cart with a slide projector, cassette player, and various envelopes of evidence to display. He plays a tape that Vera left for him before her final alien abduction. In a mere seven minutes, Zinn projects skepticism and then despair. The sketch could have been construed as a carny gimmick, but Zinn turns the theme on its head with grace and empathy.

The Seven” is seven sketches in as many minutes for each.

Another favorite is “Invention of Falling”. Mallory Ness plays a contestant in the talent round of an American beauty pageant. Ness’ character is a whirlwind of pathos and reality show aspirations. She claims to be a reincarnation of Galileo whose pageant purpose is to save the children of the world from reincarnation. Forget world peace and starving children.

There is a lovely sketch that addresses the burden of those left behind after the death of a woman called Untitled 862 It veers dangerously close to maudlin with dancing angels but is redeemed by a light touch even in the keening of grief. I was not particularly fond of Vigilante or Mendacity, or Herd of Elephants in the Room. One was essentially a rap-off and the other a lift from How To Get A Head In Advertising without the sense of humor. When the scientist mentions the Pinocchio Effect as an explanation for a finger growing out of a liars nose, I wanted to hear a riff on Funkadelic’s Pinocchio Theory but seven minutes was not enough for humor and angst.

The highlight of the other four shows is Honeybuns. Hands down Dean Evans’ creation is destined for one of my favorites of the year. Honeybuns is an otherworldly mime and performance art piece that does not sugarcoat. Dean’s alter persona is an enormous lemon yellow creature. He is an inverted spinning top, a perverse banana. It’s a live Botero with a healthy shot of venom and hysterical reality on incredibly shapely legs. Evans’ expressive features are enhanced into a surreal harlequin grotesque with a British accent added for extra venom. Evans gets the whole audience involved and keeps control of the show at all times. I think that the ending is pretty spectacular but I will not reveal it. Suffice it to say that everyone on the block gets a taste of Honeybuns.

Four Women is reprised in full length for this season. It is a dance and dramatic riff on Nina Simone’s song Four Women. The song reveals and enhances four archetypes of Black women that have endured since the Middle Passage. Jessica Ellis’ choreography is sharp and perfect for each archetype. It is done well with each character taking power and possession in what have been called stereotypes instead of archetypes. That is due to the genius of Nina Simone. It is a good reminder of how things have gone down for Blacks in America and strikingly reminiscent of the Black theater vibe in the 60’s and 70’s. There is a lot of anguish, anger, and Strong Black Woman Dignity that has the potential to put me on edge. All of the dignity and strength is from fighting the White Man and rising above sexual objectification. It is necessary to be cognizant of the cultural climate but all of that strength and anger is another stereotype. Vulnerability does not have to be taboo but for historical authenticity from slavery to the Black Power Movement, Four Women works quite well.

Psychonaut Librarians is a hilarious farce tinged with science fiction. This is a great rendition of the library as a workplace. Yes there are power struggles and romantic intrigue with this wonderful band of nerds. How We Do is an interesting and capable reenactment of a true-life murder that was prosecuted by Richard M. Daley. Last Meal Man rounds out a show called The Three with a tale of the man who makes the last meals of notorious Americans on death row. Last Meal Man takes the veneer off of death penalty morality discussions with interesting and visceral uses of food as props. Sarah Rose Graber portrays ax murderer and born again Christian Karla Faye Tucker. It is at once funny and repellant if you can recall the case.

Each Sketchbook Reincarnate will feature one of the actors in a sketch called The Interview. There are preset questions for which there is no prior knowledge or preparation by the interviewee. I witnessed actor John Wilson’s interview. Wilson is authentic and funny answering personal questions and recalling some painful memories. It is a good addition to the program to understand the performers and the process of revealing ones true self within a fictionalized character.

I recommend Sketchbook Reincarnate as a buffet of acting styles and different theater genres. It’s edgy and a good use of your precious time.

Rating: ★★★

Sketchbook Reincarnation continues through July 15th at Flat Iron Arts Building, Collaboraction Arts Spaces, 1579 N. Milwaukee (map). Tickets are $20 per show ($10 for students/industry); a full pass to all shows for $60/$35. For complete schedule and listing of all of the amazing talent in this series, go to


Photos by PhotographerName




John Zinn, Mallory Ness,

behind the scenes



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