Tom Strini
Review

Youngblood Theatre runs deep for laughs

By - Apr 25th, 2010 12:31 am
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email

Clouds of boredom and despair hang over the 12 phone solicitors, all in a row at one long table in a dingy boiler room. Not a speck of red ink mars the thermometer progress chart on the wall behind them.

Playwright Mickle Maher

It turns out they’re trying to raise money for a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Then it turns out they’re raising money for a band of superheroes who want to put on the play. Then they sort of become the superheroes/actors, who turn out to be descended from the characters in Shakes…. Wait. That would be telling.

Let’s just say that 12 Youngblood Theatre actors deftly blend their hybrid characters, who change entirely over the course of the play yet somehow retain core personalities shown at the outset. A good part of the fun of Mickle Maher’s Spirits to Enforce — and it’s loads of fun — lies in seeing which aspects those personalities pop up next.

That ties in with language. The solicitors have a script — the pitch — they direct to their reluctant patrons on the other end of the phone. They speak to one another in more mundane language. But as curtain time for the imaginary superhero Shakespeare production draws near, more and more actual Shakespeare slips into that script. And as they slip into their superhero personae, comic-book fantasy language gets into the mix.

This is a complicated play, and you’d think it would be hard to follow. It’s not. Maher, the playwright, gives each character distinctive rhythm and content. You get the idea of who they are very quickly, and not because they’re stereotypes. You haven’t seen these people in sitcoms. OK, I’ll tell: You’ve seen them in Shakespeare, but not as phone solicitors. Maher reveals their lineage ever so slowly and cleverly. The connections are at once so outrageous and so apt that you’ll laugh out loud when you make them.

Director Michael Cotey

Maher’s ear for music is as sharp as his ear for language. He orchestrated the 12-part chatter. It sometimes overlaps in counterpoint, sometimes works in unison, sometimes focuses on a single voice and sometimes crescendos into a lovely, indecipherable cacophony. Director Michael Cotey and his cast played it the way Edo de Waart and the MSO play Beethoven, with an ease and abandon borne of discipline and skill.

The piece rises to a riotously funny climax as the entire company joins in a thrilling account of the disasters and triumphs of opening night, played to a venomous audience of archenemy Dr. Cannibal (to be confused with Caliban) and his henchmen. It’s unbelievable, in both senses of the word. It is also entirely believable; we go to the theater because we want to suspend disbelief. This play draws you in with tiny leaps in logic that eventually land you on Fantasy Island. The joke’s on you, and you’ll laugh and laugh.

Here is the cast, and I love ’em all: Tess Cinpinski, Sara Zeintek, Kyle Gallagher-Schmitz, Daniel Koester, April Paul, Gracie DeWolff, T. Stacy Hicks, Cathlyn Melvin, Adrian Feliciano, Mike Loranger, David Rothrock and Dustin Schmaus.

Spirits to Enforce runs through May 9 in a 40-seat, just-right space within the Miller and Campbell Costume Company, at 907 S. 1st St., at Walker Street in Walker’s Point.  Tickets are a crazy bargain at $15. (Do get them in advance; the place was completely packed Saturday.) Purchase tickets through the Alchemist Theatre website. Find out more about the show at Youngblood’s site.

Categories: A/C Feature 1, Theater

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *