REVIEW: Fruit Tree Backpack (Clove Productions)

The non-art of relationships

 

fruit tree backpack

   
Clove Productions presents
   
Fruit Tree Backpack
   
Written by Barrie Cole
Directed by Eric Ziegenhagen
at side project theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through July 17th  |  tickets:  $12  |  more info

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Playwright Barrie Cole loves to play with words and conceptual themes like a child loves to play with Legos. In Fruit Tree Backpack, a tiny, taut and daffy trilogy, now onstage at side project theatre, her characters like to do the same. Clove Productions has teamed up an excellent cast and Eric Ziegenhagen’s simple direction keeps out of the way of Marisa Wegryn and Michael Kessler’s subtle and satisfying comic interaction.

“In the Middle of the Night” begins with a whacked out, out-of-the-blue project—or is it? It’s the midnight discovery of one’s partner/roommate wrapping an orange in packing tape and claiming its worthiness as a new and original piece of art. It’s the kind of thing that happens in the middle of the night—due to too much pot, too much time on one’s hands or too little sleep. When the partner declares it as a project worthy of repetition—wrapping oranges in packing tape and sending them to all her friends without explanation—then you know it’s either an idea that borders on artistic conceptual madness or is just, simply, mad.

“Intimacy” deals with a couple at the subtle heart of friction in their relationship. One believes the other has not been smoking for months, while the other reluctantly reveals, once on vacation, that he has been faking his abstinence from smoking all the while. Wegryn and Kessler successfully pull comedy from the situation for all its worth. That, or there are too many people out there who identify with this dilemma completely. But Cole’s writing quickly gets to the sulking heart of the matter. “Intimacy is such a burden, don’t you agree?” says one partner. But is the burden still worth it?

“Research” happily takes us to the netherworld of an ending relationship. I say happily because Cole’s humor never leaves deadened space in the relationship between these two characters and the cast’s teamwork to keep the scene light and resiliently firm and unflagging. One character just wants to be friends, but the other doesn’t know what that “friendship” is, what its boundaries will be, or what kind of support it will give for the future. One just wants to let it play out on its own and the other needs something graspable or definable. This is the charm of Cole’s work: even when uncertainty threatens to bring misery or instability, her characters still try to retain some kind of upper hand through the use of language. It’s inventive and loaded with emotional meaning, yet never overplayed by the actors. They are just two people breaking up, that’s all and, for all that, the world is not ending for them or for us.

      
      
Rating: ★★★
   
   

clove-productions-logo

Review: Magpie Project’s “The Happy Family Series”

A Weird and Gifted “Family” Pulls It Together

happy-family-poster

The Magpies Project present:

The Happy Family Series:
Demonstrations Exploring “Harmonic Antagonisms

inspired by P.T. Barnum’s “The Happy Family
Curated by Shawn Reddy
Emceed by H.B. Ward a.k.a. "The Tamer"
thru December 6th at Viaduct Theatre (ticket info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

I hardly knew what to make of the press put out by The Magpies Project over The Happy Family Series: Demonstrations Exploring “Harmonic Antagonisms” inspired by P. T. Barnum’s museum piece “The Happy Family.” Living by the creed “There’s a sucker born every minute,” Barnum constructed a fallacious exhibit wherein an assortment of animals, both predators and prey, were forced to live in harmony with each other as a spectacle of example to humankind. As such, The Magpie Project’s own assortment of talented misfits, drawn together from the usual fringe theater suspects, could easily be collected under any random title. Maybe the overwhelming wholesomeness of the holiday season has wormed its way into the company’s artistic direction. Never mind. Any excuse to see these performers is good one.

viaduct Emceeing the madness is H. B. Ward, aka “The Tamer,” who delivers the funniest, most intelligent opening comic monologue I’ve witnessed in years. He’s a man in complete control of the audience—without need of whips and little need of chairs! Most of the rest of the collection, curated by Shawn Reddy, follows in this comic and quirky vein. Whether any of it refers to family hardly matters, but one will find some startling depth along with the laughs.

The first weekend run in particular saw a short memoir simply read aloud by writer and critic Brian Nemtusak. It was the sort of thing one might hear on Public Radio’s This American Life, only with greater psychological depth, quiet power, and less desperate need to please the audience. It came closest to all the evening’s exhibits in articulating the antagonisms between three generations of men and what each generation tried to do to compensate for them. Ira Glass, eat your heart out.

Other sketches executed by Ian Belknap and Edward Thomas-Herrera, such as the subtext of corporate meetings and the dramatic, glamorous imaginings of a lone gay child, were more conventionally funny, but no less entertaining for being so. Far more far out performances were dealt by the musical stylings of Jenny Magnus of Curious Theatre and Chris Schoen of Theatre Oobleck.  I kept thinking Jenny was coming up with any old excuse to sing her songs under the rubric of “family.”

Stopping by to see The Happy Family Series over the next few weeks will be more than worth your while. Who knows, maybe the oddness of the “exhibits” will strike some familial similarity.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

Curated by Shawn Reddy
Emceed by H.B. Ward A.K.A. "The Tamer"

Featuring work by: Martha Bayne, Ian Belknap, Dave Buchen, Chris Bower, Eiren Caffall, Mark Chrisler, Robin Cline, Barrie Cole, Elvisbride Band, Idris Goodwin, David Isaacson, David Kodeski, Jenny Magnus, Brian Nemtusak, Beau O’Reilly, David Pavkovic and Vicki Walden (of DOG), The Lawrence Peters Outfit, Diana Slickman, Edward Thomas-Herrera, and David Wilcox.

Continue reading