Review: Sketchbook Reverb (Collaboraction)

  
  

High-energy company serves up so-so sample platter

  
  

Dan Krall, James Zoccoli, Kim Lyle, Saverio Truglia, Collaboraction, Sketchbook Reverb

   
Collaboraction presents
   
Sketchbook Reverb
  
Directed by Anthony Moseley
at
Flat Iron Arts Building, 1575 N. Milwaukee (map)
thru March 27  | 
tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Collaboraction has to be one of the most energetic theatre companies on the planet. If you’ve ever seen a past Sketchbook, the company’s signature showcase for new avant-garde works, you understand what I’m talking about. Anthony Moseley and his band of merry artists are like a bunch of teenagers who have forgotten to take their Adderall. The creativity bubbles forth, frequently with a lack of clear direction and focus, making the final product a sight to see but not always a comprehensible sight.

Saverio Truglia, Sketchbook Reverb, Amy Speckien, CollaboractionSketchbook REVERB certainly delivers on whimsy and inventiveness. And just like the eponymous annual series from which its one acts have been borrowed, its inconsistent. Some of the pieces are absolutely brilliant, reaching intense levels of poignancy through bare-knuckled honest comedy. Other times, the wackiness of the plays feels put on in a desperate attempt to appear cutting edge and quirky. When it works, it works. And when it doesn’t, you eye the program seeing what’s next on the menu.

Let’s first discuss some of the winners. “My Yeti Dreams”, written by Lisa Dillman, is a soliloquy delivered by a woman (Laura Shatkus) who falls in love with a grunting, half-naked Yeti (HB Ward). It’s an absurd premise with honest and relatable underpinnings. This woman finds freedom in her love for something so free of social mores. Shatkus delivers a breathy, heartfelt monologue as Ward jumps and grunts with gusto.

Another highlight of the night was “I’ll Never Tell You”, written by Stephen Cone. In this short, a man (HB Ward) is mourning privately over his wife’s corpse (Laura Shatkus). The man reveals to his wife things he regrets not telling her, specifically his many infidelities. Despite the fact that he’s a chronic cheater, the man’s awkwardness and sadness overshadow any judgment we may reserve for him. Instead, we are compelled to sympathize. This time, Ward delivers the monologue, and he does it with great patience and passion. It’s a beautiful performance.

The last high point of the night was “The Lurker Radio Hour”, written by Drew Dir. The short takes the form of an old radio show, which is always a fun format to see staged. The show’s host Steve Larker (James Zoccoli) dawns a sinister-sounding voice while his assistant Alice (Amy Speckien) creates the sound effects. Steve’s wife has left him, and so he uses the radio show as a platform to beg her to return. Meanwhile, Steve is blind to the fact that Alice pines for him. It’s a tale of unrequited love, played out with comedic sincerity by the talented Zoccoli. Speckien does a great job with amplifying the laughs as the timid sidekick.

Cast of "The Untimely Death of Adolf Hitler," part of "Sketchbook REVERB." Photo by Saverio Truglia.

The show’s five other plays range from mildly amusing to aggravating. “The Deep Blue Sea”, by Keith Huff, is bloated with stale, overwrought dialogue. “Tuning in El Paso”, by Ellen Fairey, tries too hard to appeal to our emotions. “Dating: A Cautionary Tale for Facebook Users”, by Ira Gamerman, is like a stand-up routine that doesn’t know when to stop. “A Domestic Disturbance at Little Fat Charlie’s Seventh Birthday Party”, by Andrew Hobgood, is a poor man’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. And “The Untimely Death of Adolph Hitler”, by Andy Grigg, is a decent sketch that quickly wears out its premise.

If you’re a fan of past Sketchbook shows, you’ll definitely enjoy Reverb. If you’ve always wanted to see a Collaboraction performance, Reverb is a great introduction. If you enjoy consistently good, grounded theatre, then Reverb probably isn’t for you. Personally, I applaud Collaboraction for taking risks and not always succeeding, and I appreciate the opportunities they give to new playwrights. They serve to remind other companies that artistic vision should always come before critical recognition.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
   
  

Pictured: HB Ward (Yeti) and Laura Shatkus (Christine) in "My Yeti Dreams," part of "Sketchbook REVERB" presented by Collaboraction. Photo by Saverio Truglia.

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REVIEW: Sketchbook X (Collaboraction)

Collaboraction celebrates the creative spirit with Sketchbook X

 Pictured (left to right): Beth Stelling, Maari Suorsa, Mary Hollis Inboden and Meg Johns in The New Colony Ensemble’s world premiere “Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche,” one of the 19 original short works in SKETCHBOOK  X, a mixed media festival of theatre, music and video presented by Collaboraction, now in its 10th year. The show runs through June 27, 2010 at The Chopin Theatre. http://www.collaboraction.org

   
Collaboraction presents
   
Sketchbook X:   People’s Choice
   
at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
through June 27th  |  tickets: $20-$35   |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

What is a play exactly? Is it a dramatic staging of a story? Is it people moving around in a physical space in front of an audience? And furthermore, what separates a play from a sketch or a scene or even a performance art installation?

Pictured (left to right): Jeffrey Gitelle, Ian McLaren and Emily Shain in “Eighty Four” written by Cory Tamler, directed by Dan Stermer. “Eighty Four” is one of the 19 original short works in SKETCHBOOK  X, a mixed media festival of theatre, music and video presented by Collaboraction, now in its 10th year. The show runs through June 27 at The Chopin Theatre These are the questions I was left pondering after seeing Collaboraction’s tenth annual Sketchbook festival, a showcase of original mixed media performances. This  year’s theme was “exponential.” Yes, it is fairly nebulous, and this is perhaps one reason why the output lacks a certain concreteness and cohesion. Characters and plot become secondary to evoking visceral emotions. Sketchbook X in many ways is more circus than drama.

This isn’t to say that the finished product is all spectacle and no substance. There are some standout pieces.

The one that clearly stands out the most is Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche. Unlike other pieces that become crushed under their own weight, Five Lesbians is a witty, stylized comedy. Devised by Evan Linder, the play features five women (Sarah Gitenstein, Mary Hollis Inboden, Beth Stelling, Maari Suorsa and Megan Johns) who head a local social club centered around a shared love of quiche. The women click and cluck like 1950s southern church ladies and harass the audience. When communist Russia bombs the outside world, all quiche is destroyed. The women go into a tizzy, which leads to their outings.

Five Lesbians works because it is the most refined piece of the festival. The script feels fully fleshed out, the actors are well aware of their characters and the comedic timing is impeccable. There is a lot of commitment, and there is little ambiguity. It has an aesthetic all its own that is so engaging I’d pay to see a full-length production.

Pictured (left to right): Beth Stelling, Maari Suorsa, Mary Hollis Inboden and Meg Johns in The New Colony Ensemble’s world premiere “Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche,” one of the 19 original short works in SKETCHBOOK  X, a mixed media festival of theatre, music and video presented by Collaboraction, now in its 10th year. The show runs through June 27, 2010 at The Chopin Theatre

Other standouts include Sacrebleu (devised and performed by Dean Evans, Molly Plunk and Anthony Courser), a pantomimed, slapstick comedy about two eccentric French fur trappers. The short monologue The Blueberry (written by Sean Graney and featuring Celeste Januszewski) is a thoughtful meditation on existence that explains string theory with blueberry imagery.

Other pieces, however, just don’t pan out. What I’m Looking For (written by Brett C. Leonard and featuring Joel Gross and Heather Bodie) is little more than a heavy-handed music video for a Rufus Wainwright song. Meanwhile, The Untimely Death of  Adolf Hitler (written by Andy Grigg and featuring Eddie Karch, Anthony Moseley, Erin Myers, Greg Hardigan and Dan Krall) lacks enough wit to drive the piece beyond its premise. But you can’t expect all the pieces to be gems. Besides, if you don’t like something, just wait 7 to 10 minutes for another play.

Sketchbook-Four-Women As usual, Collaboraction has succeeded in making the festival feel like a big event. The interior of the Chopin Theatre is awash in glowing light and fog. Two large screens flank the sides of the stage and streamers stretch from the floor to the ceiling. It all makes for a breath-taking first impression.

If you want to see all 19 pieces in a row, you’ll have to see the show on a Saturday. Be warned, though. It’s a 4.5-hour long journey, though you are encouraged to come and go as you please.

Overall, Sketchbook X is a mixed bag of intriguing works. The majority of the pieces lack refinement, but there are a few plays that are polished treasures. The theme gets lost among the many productions, but I don’t think that’s the point. Rather, Sketchbook is more of a party that aims to celebrate the creative spirit, and in that sense, it succeeds.

   
   
Rating:  ★★★
   
   

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