Has it really been six weeks since my last trip to Theater Undreground in Richmond, IL? Hardly seems like it. Yet, TU’s ambitious spring/summer schedule has drawn me back to another theatrical treat.
The subtitle of this show is “A concoction of clowns, cacophony, conditions, and cows,” and you’ll find all of those things in this ambitious staging of shorts. The first half of the show (before intermission), featured not only three short plays, but also 2 skits plus some interlude music and improvisational introductions (by Theater co-founder Tim Mosbach.) The good news is that all the pieces of this show were fun — despite being staged by first-time directors. The not-so-good news is that I was an “audience volunteer” for an experiment that didn’t quite work in the first play — so, because I was moving between the stage and my seat (through a seemingly sound-proof backstage area), I can’t properly judge how the play turned out; I missed too much of it.
That play was “The Tragical Tale of Melissa McHiney McNormous McWhale,” and it involved a Las Vegas love story between a woman with an enormous butt and a clown with enormous feet, all told in Dr. Seuss-like rhyme. An interesting concept, but even before I was swept backstage, I’m not sure it was entirely working. Next came a sketch, “Coffee Tastes Like Mud,” which went a long way for a bad pun, but amused nonetheless.
“Family 2.0” was better than the first play, though I got the feeling that the language had been cleaned up for Richmond. The cast performed well, and Dwayne Dethlefsen had me roaring as Husband 1.0 who turns into the family dog. The sketch “Parking Cars” about groomsmen-turned-parking-attendants also amused. The first half finished with “The Spotted Man,” about a very strange visit to a doctor’s office. The patient, Jeff Cook, brought a great combination of deadpan comedy and pathos to his role, and Katelin Stack — playing multiple medical-office parts — in turns amused, bemused, and titillated. Well played by all, though the end seemed abrupt and weak compared to the rest. Ian Hall’s musical interludes and song were funny and well performed.
The second half of the show was taken up entirely by “Hidden in this Picture,” by Aaron Sorkin, of West Wing and Studio 60 fame. The writing in this piece was clearly a cut above all the rest, featuring Sorkin’s usual love of words, quirky characters, and Hollywood. The staging was simple but effective, and the acting top-notch, especially by the two principals Chris Warren (The Director) and Christopher Troka (The Writer), whose characters are involved in shooting the final scene of The Director’s first film. The acting in this was so effective, that I found it hard to believe that I was not watching a Hollywood Director and Writer (as well as the two other Hollywood characters in the play). A great finish to an interesting suite of plays.
The only trouble is, I saw the show on the last weekend. So, now you’ll have to keep your eye on Theater Undreground’s announcements to catch their next show. They have a Facebook page, too. (But make sure you spell their name right; the RE’s in the second word, not the first.) Hope to see you in the theater!