I can now safely say that bad paintings make for good theater. They also make for not so good theater. But the balance is definitely on the good side. So the Commedia Beauregard collaboration with the Museum of Bad Art paid off nicely. And you’ve still got two chances to left to see “Masterworks: The Museum of Bad Art Plays” at the Bryant Lake Bowl.
Now, I understand it’s required of straight people to gather in groups and watch the Super Bowl, just as later in the month, I am required to join the members of my gay tribe to watch the Oscars, but if folks feel like bucking the trend, one of our performances is this Sunday, February 1 at 7pm (doors open at 6pm). You can still eat and drink while watching something entertaining. The remaining performance after that is Sunday, February 8th - same time and place.
What will you be seeing? I’m glad you asked...
In what has become something of an additional character to all the plays, a projection screen slowly, ever so slowly, lowers itself from the ceiling prior to each play’s beginning. The awful painting from which the play is inspired is shown. Then the screen slowly retreats again into the ceiling. And... scene... (the routine is repeated at the end of the play, giving the audience another look at the art that inspired what they just saw, and then moving on to the next.)
Among the best of the evening are the expected entries - one from Bill Corbett (of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame), and one from Nick Ryan (of Four Humors/"Shift"/"Bards"/"Deviled Eggs"/"Mortem Capiendum"/"Inspector Rex" fame). Their scripts close out the evening.
“Hey, Physics. Eat me!”
Corbett’s “The Disturbing Chair” is riffing on a painting by the curator of the Museum of Bad Art himself, entitled “Lulli, Fowl, & Gravestone” - a peculiar work with a couple of peacocks, an enormous overturned gravestone, and a young woman perched on a... well, disturbing-looking chair. Said chair is the fixation of a comically suicidal (yes, there is such a thing in Corbett’s universe and actress Eva Nelson sells it in a big way) woman named Lulli. The psychiatrist Lulli comes to for help (played with delightfully elevating levels of exasperation by Dawn Malicsi) soon regrets encouraging Lulli to talk. The audience will have no such regrets. It’s a great little piece of comedy writing, sharply directed by Katie Willer. A great cap to a night of oddities.
“True or False - Free will killed God.”
Ryan’s play “Gina’s Demons” (based on a painting of the same name) finds an artist named Gina (Dani Krivinchuk) trapped in a doctor’s office, surrounded on all sides by her silent finger-painting demon horde (Starr Brainard, Celesta Brainard, Mozelle LeCompte, Yasha Meyer & Madelyn DeFrey). It’s a crowded stage, but director Leah Adcock-Starr uses the space well. Nick Kiminski does a great four-part turn as every member of the medical team tending to Gina - Nurse, Dr. Sentiment, Dr. Wellwell, and the Exterminator. The care-givers grow ever more ominous, but are also increasingly absurd and funny in execution (no pun intended). Gina survives her encounter with modern healthcare, but loses a lot along the way. Nick Ryan delivers again, though I’m not sure I buy the premise of the piece - that art naturally springs only from the voices in one’s head. The fact that society wants to eliminate such demons at all costs seems a bit ham-handed. And the notion that artists are only as good as their demons, I don’t find to be particularly helpful. It seems to perpetuate the idea that artists are somehow always screwed up, at least the good ones. Which too many bad artists use as an excuse for bad behavior. But “Gina’s Demons” is so amusingly performed, I’m inclined to let it slide.
“Mona Lisa, #3 of 5”
The evening begins with Greg Bonine-Giles’ take on a strangely masculine rendering of the classic DaVinci painting, entitled “Mana Lisa,” birthing a script called “Auntie Lisa.” The title character (Maretta Zilic) appears to have mugged Cyndia Lauper back in the 1980s and stolen her wardrobe. Donning this uniform, she attempts to run a business based on art fraud, with questionable assistance from her two nieces (Tegan Sickeler and Liz Swabey-Keith). The young women certainly don’t handle the local police detective very well. Their bumbling attempt at an alibi only convinces the cop (Kelvin Hatle) to return, in drag no less, masquerading as a potential customer, to get the goods on the family of swindlers. Apart from Zilic’s wardrobe, and Hatle’s undercover antics, another high point is a sound cue of a tuba belting out a very familiar tune (which someone had to share with me was Madonna’s “Like A Virgin”). Sometimes this one strays, and one wonders if director Scott Pakudaitis and company took the “bad art” directive a bit too literally. Still, an evening around a concept like this is bound to take some unusual turns.
“I’ve been eating way too many muffins lately.”
A piece that (like my own) is only tenuously connected to its painting would be Lisa Day’s “Off Leash,” directed by Natalie Novacek. The painting was “Bone-Juggling Dog In Hula Skirt,” which isn’t hard to visualize. Whatever that title conjures in your mind, you won’t be far off. The play itself is more concerned with the demise of a cat, the demise of a career, and perhaps the demise of a relationship as well. Gabby (Anna Shields) is at a crossroads, and her boyfriend Luke (Corey Walton) can’t keep up - though Lord knows the man tries valiantly. Toss in Gabby’s dad (Jack McClure, the most charming and grounded of the three characters), and the young woman’s comical quarter-life crisis is complete. Mention is often made of her feeling ready for a dog of her own, and dad has a dog that needs walking, but there are no hula skirts, nor any juggling in sight. But if you’re going to have art, there must be room for artistic license.
“Have you seen my head?!”
Going the opposite direction, writer Dan O’Neil (another of my Fringe favorites for work like “Desolation In America,” “Baggage” and the truly amazing “10/14”) took his painting “Invasion of the Office Zombies” quite literally. He injected nearly every single element of the piece into the script “The Destabilization of Businessmen, or The Big-Wigs Lose Their Heads.” The artwork is a bizarre black and white collage of Dali-esque alarm clocks, floors composed of $1,000 bills, disembodied heads on a desk, a dispiriting chart of falling profits, and someone who might or might not be contemplating jumping out a window. O’Neil finds a way to work these items into a satiric short which finds an inept middle manager (Jeff Huset) masquerading as Grover Cleveland. His outfit includes a ski mask with an enlarged photocopy of Cleveland’s head off the thousand dollar bill, with eye holes so he can see to do a little dancing. Not surprisingly, the powers that be would prefer that the manager do a little actual work to earn his paycheck, and an internal evaluator (Kjersten Johnson) and worker from the factory line (Kirsten Wiegmann) put the man’s buffoonish ways in perspective. As always, Dan O’Neil finds clever ways to insert wry political commentary into the proceedings without getting in the way of his own comedic set-ups.
I’ll be going into my thoughts on my own script, “Two Left Feet,” in another post, as they’ll take up a bit more space. In short for now, I’m thrilled with the outcome of the production. I couldn’t have asked for a better team than my director Laura Leffler-McCabe, and my actors Blake E. Bolan, Bryan Grosso, and Tera Kilbride. While remaining true to the spirit of the piece, they augmented what I had on the page and made it richer with their additions. It definitely keeps the comedic momentum going in the middle of the evening, while also serving up a little food for thought, if you’re hungry for some.
“Masterworks: The Museum of Bad Art Plays” is an intriguing grab bag of ideas and varied execution, just like the bizarre assortment of paintings which inspired it. If you’re looking for an inventive and amusing evening of theater with that Fringey sensibility about it, look no further. We have the play(s) for you.
Sundays, 7pm (doors at 6pm) - February 1 and 8, 2009 - Bryant Lake Bowl. Tickets - $15, $12 in advance or with Fringe button. Reservations recommended, the crowds have been pretty full so far. We'd hate to have to turn you away. (It happened on my last show at the BLB.) For tickets, call 612-825-8949 or visit brownpapertickets.com. For further information, visit www.cbtheatre.org, www.bryantlakebowl.com, and www.museumofbadart.org