7 Stories at Next Act Theatre
“Life is just a series of little episodes. You’re on. You’re off,” remarks a character.
A series of episodes is exactly what the protagonist of 7 Stories at Next Act Theatre encounters while standing on a building ledge. “On” or “off” is exactly the two choices with which he seems to grapple. Named only “The Man,” the bowler topped figure is disillusioned by the limitations of life, and he is struggling to find a reason to live.
While up on the ledge deciding, The Man (Mark Ulrich) encounters a cast of individuals who pop out of the nearby windows. Characters include an extreme paranoiac, a valley girl, a violent and infidelitous couple, a false groom, a stylish couple, a Southern advocate for God, a hipster, an angry party host, a disgruntled neighbor and a 100-year-old woman.
Cocooned in their own problems, they appear oblivious or indifferent to why the Man stands outside their high window ledges. It’s not until Act Two that anyone even inquires about his reasons for being on the ledge. To depreciate his position even more, after one character discovers his suicidal intentions, she simply regards it as passe and encourages him to jump.
Did I mention that this was a comedy?
Much of the dialogue is extremely funny, but a lot of the laughter is elicited by Ulrich’s rubber-faced reactions to the problem-laden folk surrounding him. Only the style choice of having all the actors (aside from Ulrich) wear cabaret makeup seemed unnecessary and confusing.
All the actors display a comedic stage aptitude with protean perfection. With the exception of Ulrich, each member of the cast has to play no less than three characters. Doug Jarecki (last seen in Smell of the Kill) again utilizes amazing voice talents, and Tami Workentin (hot off Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s Picnic) makes the complete character morphs seem easy. As The Man, Ulrich holds it together with verve and a genuine delivery.
The set, with much attention given to detail and verisimilitude, is almost too realistic for a play requiring exaggerated comedic stereotypes. A distorted angle of the building here or bright cartoonesque color there might have complemented the stretched characterization and tone.
Next Act Theatre effectively brings a life-inspiring story without being saccharine. Panych’s play is about a man who sees his limitations disappear and comes to embrace the idea of possibilities he didn’t believe existed. Instead of a world with an exact circumference, he embraces the infinite reaches of space. It’s a lesson we can all stand to remind ourselves: We always have a choice in everything we do, and are never bound fast in any situation or circumstance.
7 Stories continues at Next Act at the Off-Broadway Theatre stage through December 13. For tickets and information call 278-0765 or visit nextact.org
Produced by Next Act Theatre
Written by Morris Panych
Directed by David Cecsarini
Featuring: Debra Babich, Doug Jarecki, Robert W. C. Kennedy, Mark Ulrich and Tami Workentin
Run Time: 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission