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Review: “Apocalypse” Night of MadLab’s 20th Theatre Roulette

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Review: “Apocalypse” Night of MadLab’s 20th Theatre RouletteLeft to right: Dalia Natour as Kelli, with Colleen Dunne as Erica and Donnasia Allen as Sammie in "Three Women and An Onion" by Ryan M. Bultrowicz, part of the MadLab Theatre production of "Theatre Roulette 2019" Photos by Steve Malone Photography.
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MadLab’s Theatre Roulette is a Columbus institution and still the best bang-for-your-buck sampling of new voices in bite-sized portions. Anyone who assembles three nights of brand new shorts for 20 years should be commended.

For this 20th anniversary, I saw the Apocalypse night, directed by Laura Spires with assistance from Mary Sink and Kayla Theis. Just like its eponymous game, the viewer doesn’t win every spin but judging by the night I saw this year — seven sketches in a tight 80 minutes — they still have the safety of a corner bet. Overall, the night takes the fascinating tack of looking at the domestic pieces of the future, the “in-between” moments where most of us live our lives.

The two strongest pieces of the night make the most of antic energy and a cast leaning into the wildness and absurdity. “How Brenda Lang Invented Time Travel with a Moldy Piece of Cheese,” by Scott Mullen, paints Jessica Gibson as the title’s unlikely inventor of time travel, Yanni Clemons as a holographic messenger trying to right the future, and Malerie Torres as Lang’s best friend. The back-and-forth feels lived-in and real; the short is full of sly nods to the way stories develop and the way we have no say in how we’re remembered.

Ricardo Jones as Ed with Shana Kramer as Helen in “Stiff Competition” by John Busser.

“Stiff Competition” by John Busser wraps sharp jabs at the aggressive win-at-all-costs world of today in the hilarious banter of Shana Kramer’s aggressively jaded science teacher and Ricardo Jones’ concerned parents. I could have watched these two go around the room for twice as long as this sketch.

Other successes come from a surprising sweetness and empathy for characters, even if the scenario is something we’ve seen before. Schatzie Schaefers’ “New & Improved” raises interesting questions about the application of planned obsolescence and minimum viable products to market if those products have sentience, and Colleen Underwood and Ben Teitelbaum breathe life into it. Brynne Frauenhoffer’s “Upload” uses parallel construction to show a couple at two stages in their life, young (Colleen Kochensparger and Lance Atkinson) and no longer young (Shelby Brady and Nick Martin), dealing with the line between science and religion and the possibility of love overcoming the deepest divides; its cast gets the most out of the existential ache running through the piece.

Even the less successful pieces have Spires’ quick direction and the energy of the casts going for them. Steven Hayet’s “Talking Points” with Mike (Sam Clements) announcing his recent breakup to the family in the format of a press conference needed more jokes and less dead time. “Three Women and an Onion” has terrific performances from Colleen Dunne, Donnaisa Allen, and Dalia Natour and what should be an awesome, funny premise but can’t figure out what to do with those two things. Chadwick Anderson’s “Phoenix Prologue” could have been decent connective tissue in a full-length but lacks the specificity to make us care about the characters in the given time.

Theatre Roulette runs through May 25 with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and a marathon of all three on May 25. For tickets and more info, including the complete show schedule, visit madlab.net/theatre-roulette-2019.html.

Left to right: Malerie Torres as Mary, with Jessica Gibson as Brenda and Yanni Clemmons as Alice in “How Brenda Lang Invented Time Travel with a Moldy Piece of Cheese” by Scott Mullen.
Left to right: John Grote as Stan, with Helen Casebolt as Jill and Alanna G. Rex as Woman in “Thursday Afternoon in the Time Travel Waiting Room” by Scott Mullen, part of the MadLab Theatre production of “Theatre Roulette 2019.”
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