Theatre Review: Green Night at MadLab’s Theatre Roulette is a Funny Take on Science Fiction Tropes
MadLab’s Theatre Roulette, its 17th iteration opened this weekend, has become one of the theatre troupe’s signature events. A wide-ranging, spinning, mixed-bag that brings most of the actors and directors of the season together in a chance for exposure to new voices. One of the interesting changes over the years has been doing one night of a single playwright. This year, the night I was able to make was Green Night (in keeping with the roulette theme, the nights are red, black, or green), But It’s Not About That, which featured 6 shorts and a framing sequence written by Erik Sternberger and directed by Stephen Woosley.
The most light-hearted play I’ve seen in a while to confront the end of the world and our society sliding into dystopia, these short plays all named after ’90s grunge songs take science fiction tropes and put funny spins on them sometimes to great effect. The framing sequence features Scott Clay as Dr Granderson, disrupting Woosley’s introduction and the cast’s curtain call. Granderson also appears in “Pushing Forward Back” where he appears at the site of an assembled cult led by Greg McGill and Becky Horseman. The Granderson pieces that form the spine of this evening have the expected nods to Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” but delivered with snap and a swing. There’s a welcome, subtle understanding that many of our scientific advances are unintended consequences of searching for something else and, in the very funny yin-yang of McGill and Horseman, our ability to inflate things in retrospect and read motivations that may not have ever existed. Clay’s mix of one step behind bumbler and charming one step ahead mastermind with his “What’s the worst that could happen?” catchphrase is the glue that makes this work instead of fatiguing the audience.
“Big Bang Baby” is a genuinely new take on First Contact that has subtle digs at funding and carelessness in the military (as Area 51 remnants are stored haphazardly in a backstage area) and the paucity of entertainment for our troops when we meet Poison Tongue, an all-female Poison tribute band with wildly varying aspirations. Jill Ceneskie’s “Brett,” the person who takes it most seriously, and Kelley Freeman’s “Bobby” have a hilarious, crackling repartee as alien Gork (Alex Green) tries to negotiate baffling demands. Gork’s relationship with snivelling General Braddock (a very funny Scott Wheeler) is refreshing and cynical. “All Apologies” ties together the themes of unintended consequences and press-centric double talk with a hilarious Kelley Freeman as Dr Fullington describing the events that led her research team to open a portal to a Hell dimension with grounded exasperation with the press, “Just to be clear, this is a hell dimension, not actually hell, please stop asking if we’ve seen Hitler or your ‘Pop-pop.’” This as well as “Pushing Forward Back” highlight Woosley’s directorial choice to surround the speaking actors with really interesting actors reacting implying the world outside of the action happening right now.
They’re not all winners. “Man in the Box” is overlong and not funny at all. “Better Man” highlights some charming chemistry between Clay as Vince and Kathryn Miller as Natalie in a satire on online dating’s focus on percentages and how much of that highlights how superficial we humans can be with this couple putting electrodes on their heads for a pre-arranged date (which includes cocktails and food “designed” based on their profiles) but feels clipped. There’s the seed of a potentially very funny full length in “Better Man” and its brevity is appreciated but it doesn’t leave room for much “there” there.
If Green Night is any indication of the overall roulette, it’s a strong crop this year with some terrific acting and cracking direction. Like the Tom Disch poem says, “the odds still favor croupiers, but give the wheel another spin.” No one wins big every time but there are prizes that make it worth coming back.
Theatre Roulette 2016 runs through May 28th with the three nights rotating. For tickets and more info, please visit madlab.net/theatre-roulette-2016.