Welcome to Pink Banana’s (end of the) world
Most of the plays in this year's One-Act Festival at Next Act shine like a burning, Earth-destroying asteroid.
The annual festival, running through June 9 at Next Act Theatre, offers seven plays staged by six directors. Each playwright has a different spin on the evening’s theme, ranging from funny to serious and everything in between.
The best one-acts blended some tragi- with their comedy. Rich Orloff’s The Latest News from the Primordial Ooze (directed by Alan Piotrowicz) was a sad tale of two aquatic beings in love forced to separate by evolution – he’s growing lungs and fingers, she’s stuck with gills and fins. But it wouldn’t have been half as good without the numerous gags: groan-inducing puns, laser-targeted ironies (“Evolution is just a theory, Barry” was easily the line of the night) and masterful physical comedy by Harry Loeffler-Bell and Allie Beckman, the latter of whom steals the show with a hilariously grotesque attempt to evolve. You’ve got to see it to believe it.
Kelly Coffey and Jim Huston gave the evening’s best performance, in Bailing Out. It’s the least literally apocalyptic play; the end of the world here is coming only for Huston’s character, a dying man with no intention of going out quietly, despite his nurse’s (Coffey) attempts to get him to take his medication. Huston quickly diverts her attention – and ours – by offering up a glimpse into his inner self, and the result is a nuanced, moving portrayal of one man’s last great battle. Except for the horribly melodramatic and unnecessary inclusion of thunder and lightning in the background, director and recent UWM grad Luke Erickson’s offering is pitch-perfect.
Not every one-act came in on the same level. Two in a row put a speed bumps right in the middle of the show.
Things That Go Bump (also directed by Piotrowicz) has a clever concept, but it’s derivative of the Pixar film Monsters, Inc., to a degree that would only be forgivable if playwright Mike Thompson had written in a satisfying conclusion. And in The Good New Days (co-directed by Fjosh Redbeard and Gustafson), the concept is also great: Two post-cataclysm Eskimos chatting in a purified world. But uninspired performances and a last-minute twist that invalidates most of the preceding conversation mar the play.
More middle-of-the-road were the remaining plays, So Jesus Christ Walks Into a Bar…, directed by David Franz, and Clean Up on Aisle Six, directed by Angela Fingard. Both plays have witty premises (Jesus drops by a bar during the end of the world, two cashiers end up at apocalypse ground zero), and there’s certainly enough in both plays to hold interest. But Aisle Six needs to be much shorter – the dialogue between the two cashiers turns grating after a while. And Jesus Christ seemed too smart-ass for its depressing conclusion. But they’re both solid, and so were both performances.
No review of this festival would be complete without a metaphorical round of applause for the video shorts shown in the gaps between the one-acts and used during Name That Apocalypse, produced by Redbeard. Faux-infomercials hawking products such as Plague-B-Gone, a Ragnarock-and-roll CD collection and water set the tone for the evening and tied the disparate one-acts together.
Pink Banana Theatre’s “The End of the World” One-Act Festival runs through June 9, with all shows at Next Act Theater at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance at their online box office or $15 at the door.
Display photo on the Arts & Culture page: The BADGER explosion on April 18, 1953, as part of Operation Upshot-Knothole, at the Nevada Test Site. US Gov’t photo in the public domain, via Wikipedia Commons.