Theatre Review: MadLab’s Theatre Roulette 2017
MadLab opened its 17th Theatre Roulette festival of short plays this weekend. Per tradition, Roulette is three rotating nights of different anthologies of short plays both from MadLab regulars and fresh voices. I was able to see Inside Bets, the first night, directed by Stephen Woosley with assistance by Tay Lane and Jason Sudy.
The overall mood of Inside Bets is muted, even melancholy and the best work comes in its sweeter, sadder moments. David Susman’s “Speed Date” traces an entire – long – relationship set at the table of a couple’s (Dallas Ray and Erynn Rose) first date. Susman hits all the beats you’d expect from that topic without any curve balls or surprises but the sly, liquid transitions between moments, flashes of a big-picture intelligence nodding at Eliot’s “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons,” and the earnest chemistry and commitment from Ray and Rose. “Speed Date” also benefits from a rapid-fire but controlled pace and a hilarious turn from Brett Hutton as their aggrieved, unimpressed waiter. The other highlight I went into the night chewing on is “Deal” also written by Woosley. “Deal” features a charming meditation on the difficulty of finding and sustaining real love and commitment to the moment with a Groundhog Day fantasia from young couple Katie (Bethany Dickens) and Michael (Keith Jackson) on a hammock in the Dominican. Dickens and Jackson find a natural affection and charm, tracing the implications of a lovely one-liner, “What if we live in this day forever” through its darker implications.
The best of the funny sketches also have a dark tinge though their darkness is closer to the surface in the subject matter. “A Wicked Slice” transplants The Most Dangerous Game onto a golf course and recasts Raymond Carver’s “So Much Water So Close to Home” with three golfing schmucks (Scott Wilson, Dallas Ray, Blake Litteral) watching a murder. The main characters lean too heavily on “funny” voices – also a problem with Litteral in “Ask Me Anything.” When they arrive at the dark heart of the thing, their sickening resignation to this way of the world and their nervous, equivocating interplay with a very funny Greg McGill, it soars. “The Last Word” takes the classic bantering, neurotic gangsters/assassins trope and casts it brilliantly with Susie McGarry as Mercer and Vicki Kessler as Belz. McGarry understands what scares her character, forcing her to always go for the last word without realizing it and Kessler strikes the perfect tone of real affection for her partner but bubbling frustration. RJ Shuman as Mark, their blindfolded victim, is an excellent foil between the two stronger personalities.
Brendan Michna’s lighting and set design wrap the action in a lush, dark color palette that helps set the remarkably consistent tone Woosley (with Lane and Sudy) achieve with the disparate subject matter. The direction not only finds a thread between these pieces without hammering it into the audience’s skulls, but it also makes the evening feel short and compressed – the performance I saw clocked in at about an hour-fifteen for seven sketches – even as some of the skits feel padded.
Theatre Roulette runs through May 27 with performances of Inside Bets on May 11, 19, and 27 at 8:00 p.m.; Wheel Checks on May 13, 18, and 26 at 8:00 p.m. and May 27 at 4:00 p.m.; and House Edge on May 12, 20, and 25 at 8:00 p.m. and 27 at 2:00 p.m. For tickets and more info, visit madlab.net/theatre-roulette-2017.