Roger Ebert, the critic who inspired me to become a critic, argues that entertainments should be judged not on their objective merits but by how well they deliver on what they promise to do. If a thriller makes you laugh and cry as well as jump, that’s gravy—but really, it’s not fair to expect it to do anything more than make you jump. By that standard, Quickies 2008: Human Curiosities, a theatrical presentation currently playing at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, is an unqualified success: it lives fully up to its title. If you just need something quick and curious, then by all means, go.
|quickies 2008: human curiosities. presented through november 23 at the bryant-lake bowl, 810 w. lake st., minneapolis. for tickets ($12-$15) and information, see bryantlakebowl.com. also in the daily planet, see matt peiken’s video of quickies 2008.|
The show comprises five short vignettes presented by five different companies. Four of the five shoot for dark humor; the fifth is simply dark. In the first segment, Swan Dive Theatre‘s “Miniature Horses Don’t Go to Heaven,” a father (Ben Layne) speaks unfeelingly to his young son, who is dying of cancer. (“You’re very special. No other kid in your class has seven brain tumors!”) In “Game Theory,” from 3AM Productions, two executives (Bryan Grosso and Mike Ooms) at a corporate retreat manipulate one another unfeelingly in what is supposed to be a feel-good cooperative game. The Flower Shop Project‘s “The Pet Coffin Maker” depicts a small town abortionist (Stephen Moeller), a married father, who unfeelingly philanders and then offers his professional services to his mistresses. Kaleidoscope Theatre’s “The Fishing Scene” features Duke Piotter and Josh Vogen as a young man and his father; on a fishing trip, the father unfeelingly plays a nasty prank on his son. (Notice a theme?) At the center of the show is the lone non-comedic short, 20% Theatre Company‘s “3.1.81.” The “81” of the title is 1881—the piece features six women dramatizing scenes from the memoir of Russian revolutionary Vera Figner.
Characters who violate moral norms can be wickedly funny—think of Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s Larry, who in one episode shamelessly milks his supposed grief at a relative’s death to garner social and sexual favors—but it’s hard to laugh at the characters in these Quickies because the nature of the production deprives them of any time to earn our empathy. They appear on stage, do and say nasty things, and then leave. Among the four comic pieces, “The Fishing Scene” works best, in large part both because we’re given at least a few minutes to get to know characters who are at least a bit sympathetic. “3.1.81,” the non-comic piece, has an interesting premise and a dedicated cast, but by the time we realize we’re not even supposed to be laughing…it’s over.
I’m grateful to this production for introducing me to five local theater companies at one go, but the show’s rapid-fire unpleasantness left me feeling queasy. I don’t know if I want to build a relationship with any of these companies, but I do know I need something more than just a Quickie in the back of a bowling alley.
Jay Gabler is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.