Hystery Mystery

A couple in the front row dropped out of Theatre Hystery 101 after Act One. I didn't blame them at the time. I was tempted to join them. Words like "crime against humanity" and "criminal mischief" came to mind, not to mention the thought that one of my favorite companies, Brigit Saint Brigit, had reached an all-time low. Then I noticed that the intermission featured the three actors who committed the playwriting offense on the screen as "Real Housewives of Norway," an Ibsenesque trio. Eric Griffith was Hedda, Scott Kurz was Nora and Aaron Zavitz was Kristine. Somehow, it was all uphill from there. Act Two was more than worth waiting for. Suddenly it all seemed to work. The first hour wasn't all bad — the first on-screen scene and music came straight from Arthur C. Clarke's space epic — but it quickly got both slow and lame at times, brightened here and there as it moved from cavemen to Easter plays to Shakespeare, Restoration comedy and a therapy session moderated by Sigmund Freud (Kurz) and interrupted by Buffalo Bill (Zavitz) and most fetchingly by the seminal realist August Strindberg (Griffith). Maybe the "no pain, no gain" cliché was appropriate. Or "You can't win 'em all." See for yourself if they succeeded in repeatedly pummeling Oedipus. A hint of better things to come ended Act One, when Zavitz appeared as a swishy enthusiast promising that Act Two would bring a guided tour of the 20th century. But our tour guides turned out to be Griffith as playwright, Kurz as director and Zavitz as an actor assigned to play Everyman. A film actor, by the way, who knew almost nothing about theater and hated both improv and musicals. Before long, we visited Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams, highlighted by Kurz doing Marlon Brando as the mumbler who changed the face of acting by speaking quietly and causing the audience to come to him. As the director (and he was the actual director of the whole mess), Kurz brought a man from the audience to sit on the stage wearing a black derby and instructed him to answer only "waiting" if Zavitz questioned him. You're getting into the spirit of this if you guessed he was waiting for Godot. The actor accidently got it right when he said in frustration, "This is absurd." That's when "Absurdist Theatre" flashed on the screen. Maybe you need to know that some of these charades stemmed from slips of paper provided by the audience at intermission, scribbled with suggestions for anything to do with 20th century drama. The first one involved one chair behind another with one character helping another into the back chair. A woman in the third row immediately yelled, "Driving Miss Daisy," although she was supposed to raise her hand. That'll happen when you break down the fourth wall. For the most developed bit, an effort to convince the actor of the value of live theater, Theatre Hystery 101 fell back on Shakespeare, with Kurz directing Zavitz in delivering King Harry's speech about "we few, we band of brothers." It involved the audience as his army (in Act One we were recruited as a Greek chorus) and came pretty close to achieving its goal in portraying dramatic power. But these musical-haters really got rolling when they mocked that most-favored genre with Zavitz protesting to the tune of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" or pounding out the chords from The Phantom of the Opera at a giant organ on the screen. The lyrics didn't involve a race horse named Paul Revere when they sported with "Can do, can do" from Guys and Dolls, not to mention dancing to Chorus Line and Anything Goes. They touched lots of bases, even doing some vaudeville represented by Kurz in a gorilla mask playing a fiddle. Then there was that nasty chef, Gordon Ramsey (Zavitz), blasting the Russian playwright Chekhov (Griffith) by shouting, "It's not real enough, you donkey." So I'm glad I stuck around to watch this little girl with the curl on her forehead. When she was good she was very, very good and when she was bad she was horrid. The boys made good use of on-screen captions and footage throughout, and were best live in Act Two. Theatre Hystery 101 runs through May 15, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays by the Brigit Saint Brigit Theatre in the Downtown Space, 614 S. 11th St. Tickets are $22, $18 for students and seniors. Call 402.502.4910 or visit bsbtheatre.com.

posted at 12:31 am
on Thursday, May 05th, 2011

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