Matthew Reddin

Pink Banana wins again with “Game Night” one-act festival

The win-lose ratio is closer to 50-50 than last year, but even the festival's less-successful offerings have moments of golden glory.

By - Jun 8th, 2013 02:30 pm

PinkBananaGameNightIn almost all good games, there are winners and losers. No ties. No second chances. No participation prizes.

Pink Banana’s annual one-act festival, which began this Friday, is much the same. The seven one-acts under its umbrella theme of “Game Night” were a polarizing group, with a slim majority of winners and a collection of unsuccessful challengers, whose individual moments of brilliance – some quite strong out of context – weren’t enough to keep them from losing their way.

Unlike my last Pink Banana one-act festival, the strongest plays of the evening fell into the second act. Most ambitious was Angela Iannone’s Tears, or The Woman’s Defense, which brings two Victorian women (Michelle Lynn Brien and Melanie Liebetrau) together to plot to kill the latter’s husband (a chilling Rob Maass). With its oblique dialogue, darkly wry humor and an impressive subtextual undercurrent I wish I could spend hours decoding, this piece was in a different class than much of the others.

Impressive in a different way was Matthew Konkel’s Walk, Don’t Walk. Konkel gives director Luke Erickson and actors Christopher Patnaude and Kyle Sternad the simplest of premises: a businessman attempts to jaywalk and another man won’t let him. But that simple premise launches a complex examination of social expectations and personal ethics – which manages to be hilariously funny as well. Better still, the play subverts the obvious solution of killing off the smarmy businessman; what Konkel’s actually come up with is much, much better.

Only two non-local playwrights have shows in this year’s festival, and both join the ranks of the victorious. It’s easiest to sum up why I liked Andrew Rosail’s Put Ice On It with a direct quote from my notes: “TONYA HARDING YES.” But while it might be simpler to attribute my love for the first act’s best play to its plot alone, a thinly veiled imagining of the aftermath of the Great Crowbar-to-Leg Meet-Cute of 1994, that would completely ignore Tim Palecek’s comically brilliant portrayal of the slouching, bumbling boyfriend/assailant, Zoe Schwartz’s ruthless, charming and quite mad mastermind and director Bryan Quinn’s work sharpening the performance until it’s as lethally cruel as decapitation by skate blade and as funny as watching someone slip on the ice.

The other out-of-town play was the closing piece: The Ultimate Battle for Total Control of the Entire Universe, by Pink Banana favorite Rich Orloff. While stacking the bottom half of the deck probably wasn’t intentional, the Pink Banana team clearly knew this would be the best for a finale. Ultimate Battle starts off with two middle-school-ish kids (Samantha Martinson and Peter Hiller) roughhousing in the backyard. Then there’s a moment of adulthood that crashes in – too priceless to reveal – and suddenly the piece is less a perfect, idealized picture of childhood and more candid, honest snapshots revealing two almost-adults in the moment they realize that transition’s begun. It’s a play the wrong combination of actors and directors could butcher, but Martinson, Hiller and director Leda Hoffman never fall out of tune.

The difference between the above plays and those that didn’t claim the gold is less a matter of quality as it is a difference of consistency. From the first roll of the die, those four pieces knew what sort of game they were playing. The less successful plays couldn’t make up their minds.

When Fly Steffens’ Chicken (the greatest missed opportunity of the night) lets Ceri Hartnett and Brittany Curran’s characters talk about the conflict driving the plot – Curran is a young woman who challenged her bully to a fatal game of chicken and is now trying to steal the funeral flowers in either further revenge or in regret of not being dead herself – you have some real theater at hand. But when the plot turns into a Looney Tunes chase scene, it’s hard to imagine how she or director Paul Matthew Madden were able to take themselves seriously in the first place.

Likewise with Scott Heaton’s Game Over, an unfinished business ghost story where director Chris Goode haphazardly blends romance (Harry Loeffler-Bell has come back from the dead to his girlfriend Ashley Retzlaff’s apartment) with attempted comedy (his unfinished business is to complete a video game, and she’s a squeaking, sometimes infantile, caricature of a woman).

There’s more potential in Liz Shipe’s Checkmate. In a certain sense, it’s a paint-by-numbers two-hander about an older man on a bench (Randall T. Anderson) and the younger man who engages him (Cassius Cox); I guessed the final twist about three minutes in. But despite that – and director Charles Sommers’ awkward blocking, forcing the characters to move about with a script that shouldn’t call for it – there’s a smart sensibility to the details, be they an amusing twist on the quintessential “are you hitting on me?” question or the blend of transparency and deceit Cox displays.

I’ll hope she returns for a rematch next time around – along with the rest of Pink Banana’s many talented players.

Pink Banana’s One-Act Festival, “Game Night,” runs through June 15 at Next Act Theatre. All shows are at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are $18 at the door or $15 online.

Categories: Theater

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us