Pink Banana’s Sex, Drugs and the American Way
Apolocalyptic lust and suburban crisis made the list of topics in the Pink Banana Theatre’s one-act play festival, which is aptly titled Sex, Drugs and the American Way.
The festival opened Friday (May 21) at the Off-Broadway Theatre. The show is uneven, in both writing and performance, but that’s the nature of the thing. Pink Banana mixes experienced and inexperienced actors; it’s the company’s mission to a “hone the craft.” Pink Banana has been putting on shows in Milwaukee for 10 years. The non-profit collective is a fun, creative playground creative types. Except for Bostonian Martha Patterson, all the playwrights represented in this festival are local or have strong Milwaukee-area connections.
The Sex, Drugs and the American Way actors, writers, lighting and set designers, film-makers and artists more often than not address serious subjects with humor and parody. A short film of iconic American imagery — fireworks, war scenes, presidential speeches and so on — opens the show. Artistic director Matt Kemple, costumed as a banana clad in a bright pink T-shirt, followed with a short introduction. This juxtaposition set the tone for the rest of the show.
Sex, Drugs and the American Way often feels felt like a semi-improvised variety show, as the action veers from setting to setting and mood to mood, from intense seriousness to utter absurdity. The company did not bait and switch; each scene relates to sex and/or drugs and American life. In Stephanie A.B. Wiedenhoff’s The Bombs Fall, two people are trapped in some sort of war zone. The material is like a poem broken into dialogue, as a man and woman, whose friends and family are all dead, consider their limited options. Both are armed; the scene turns out to be a metaphor about trust between lovers.
Timothy X. Troy’s Time and Place begins with a man and a woman’s stream-of-consciousness monologues about time and the subjectivity of observation. The droning monologues, each with its own subjective logic and form, interweave somewhat disjointedly and suspensefully over a piece of classical music. In a quick anticlimactic turn, the man and woman find themselves suddenly together in an airport terminal, and startled to see one another. Their relationship is just as muddled as their monologues, as singular, private turmoils spill over into strange, interpersonal stagnation.
Russ Bickerstaff’s well-written Romantic Chemistry addresses addiction. A man and a woman meet for the first time, after having had an internet flirtation. As they get to know each other in the restaurant, they partially reveal their addictions. They are guarded with one another, but turn to the audience to tell all in sidebar monologues. The piece is both funny and poignant. As the characters renders quippy justifications for long-standing addictions, they place the drugs one by one (pot, caffeine, cigarettes, PCB, etc.) on a table downstage. The lies doom the relationship from the start. The characters, tangled in half-truths, have no choice to give up on their date and each other. They retrieve their addictive goodies before they exit.
Between scenes, music by Blackalicious, Beck and other such rock played. Good move; momentary reprieve from zaniness cleaned the mental slate for the next theatrical trip.
Sex, Drugs and the American Way runs through June 5 at the Off-Broadway Theatre. Click here for the complete schedule. For tickets, call the Off-Broadway box office, 414-278-0765.
Complete Festival Repertoire:
The Bombs Fall By Stephanie A.B. Wiedenhoeft
Pecking Order (Part 1) By Patrik Beck
Truck Stop By Lisa Golda
Pecking Order (Part 2) By Patrik Beck
Romantic Chemistry By Russ Bickerstaff
Time and Place By Timothy X. Troy
Odd Ducks By Neil Haven
An Artful Marriage By Martha Patterson
Foreign Policy By James Boland and Morgan Engels