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THEATER | Joking Envelope's "Sexy Librarian" is stacked
Some audience members may compare Sexy Librarian to other Joseph Scrimshaw shows and say that it's not as funny as The Damn Audition or as thought-provoking as Fat Man Crying, but here's the most direct point of reference for me: out of a sample of two, this is by far the best original local rock musical about an ugly duckling magically transformed into a bombshell that I've ever seen.
The music is better and so are the jokes, but the most important difference is that whereas Venus tried to make a clumsy and unconvincing point about accepting yourself, Sexy Librarian isn't so sure that yourself is always the best self to be.
"Yourself," in this case, is Constance (Anna Sundberg), a mousy librarian who discovers a spell that temporarily transforms her into a lusty, confident sexpot. She begins a torrid affair with a local actor (Mike Rylander), to the despair of her boss (Sam Landman), who loves her just the way she is. But here's the interesting thing: so does her other beau. By the end of the show, both men, even while fighting for the librarian's affection, are trying to convince her to give up on her artificial confidence-booster, making the climactic point of decision about who Constance wants to be—not about who she wants.
Writer/director/drummer Scrimshaw's genre-busting plotting and often clever jokes—presented, per Scrimshaw usual, with infallible regularity—keep Sexy Librarian moving, but it's sometimes an uphill battle. At two and a half hours (including intermission), the show feels long, and if you gave me the editing pen, I'd trim the whole "rock musical" part of Sexy Librarian: File Under Rock Musical. Though the band adds an element of fun to the proceedings—and reveals that actor Adam Whisner has serious guitar chops—Mike Hallenbeck's songs are just okay, and the sound mix at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage on Saturday night often made Scrimshaw's lyrics difficult to discern. (I should note that I was sitting far to stage right; the mix might have been better in the middle of the house—er, the garage.)
Scrimshaw's assembled a wonderful cast, from the leads down to invaluable supporting player Kevin McLaughlin as a patron who keeps stumbling upon Internet porn—possibly deliberately. Sundberg, Landman, and Rylander have their characters on lock, and deliver rich comic performances that are a treat to watch. All three find the humanity behind their caricatures. Most poignant is Landman, whose hands are so gnarled from carpal tunnel syndrome that he won't even pull them out of his pockets; watch him try to pick up a book with his knees rather than accept Sundberg's help.
City Pages just named Joking Envelope the best local theater company presenting original comedy, and that assessment is hard to argue with—especially on the basis of the shows Scrimshaw writes. He's not just one of the funniest local writers, he's also one of the smartest and most challenging. That's evidenced not only by his ability to write ribald jokes about books and libraries—though he can do that too. After Sexy Librarian, you'll never look at a bookmark the same way again.
©2011 Jay Gabler