Arts-Louisville Reviews
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Performing Arts

November 26, 2017
 

Alone On A Stage

Chris Anger in Terminal Buses Only. Photo courtesy The Louisville Improvisors.

The Louisville Improvisors & The Bard’s Town present: Single Shots

Various writers and directors

Review by Keith Waits

Entire contents copyright © 2017 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved

 

We can be thankful that The Louisville Improvisors have produced the third year of Single Shots, even if the Thanksgiving weekend slot may not have provided the audience numbers that the creative initiative deserves. Sharp writing, provocative ideas, and strong acting were all on display during the all-too-brief two-night run of the 2017 edition.

The Harmfulness of Electronic Devices in the Theatre – A Tutorial (Inspired by Anton Chekhov’s Tobacco) by John Tillotson. Starring Jessica Wortham. Directed by Alec Volz.

This was an apt opening piece for the evening, a monologue in which an overstressed Stage Manager named Shirl extends what was meant to be the commonplace warning about turning off devices in a theatre into full-blown workplace meltdown. The piece draws its inspiration from a Chekhov short in which a man intending to lecture about the harmful effects of smoking does anything but address the topic. Tillotson is engaged in an academic exercise to be certain, but he gives the Shirl wonderful, detailed dialogue that succinctly reveals the cracks in the character, and Jessica Wortham charts the breakdown with a beautifully observed performance. She is wound just tightly enough and falls apart without overplaying.

Terminal Buses Only, written and performed by Chris Anger. Directed by Alec Volz.

For the last four years, Chris Anger has developed and performed autobiographical monologues that are deeply confessional but also universal enough to connect with audiences. Although not without humor, the material has been very honest and even at times harrowing in exploring Anger’s own demons and troubled past. With Terminal Buses Only, he adopts a lighter tone and looser structure while still occupying the territory of biography. Taking his cues from a select group of eleven vinyl records that are the only onstage props, Anger tells stories around his introduction to each record, or a particular song. The selections range from popular, top-selling albums: Cheap Trick At Budokan, J Geils Band Full House, and Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Sessions, to much lesser know artifacts like Babes on Broadway from Artful Dodger.

Some of the most memorable observations come from a Louvin Brothers album called Satan Is Real, which prompts a tale of a tour of the Louvin Brothers Museum conducted by Charlie Louvin himself. And when Anger addresses his own conflict about his choice for greatest rock and roll band ever by discussing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Damn The Torpedoes and The Rolling Stones’ Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out – that he chooses “TP” over the Stones on this question speaks to the highly individual character of Anger’s perspective, and the meaning of all of these choices. Although specific music seen as milestones in life is undeniably universal for the Baby Boomer generation, Anger’s nostalgia seems not only personal but for a relationship to music that may have passed away over time. Can effortless streaming of MP3’s ever take the place of the 12” vinyl record album cover, and the placing of the needle with care on that first track?

Terminal is very different from the previous four monologues, but it serves as a tidy complement to the more introspective work we have seen from Anger; a more easily engaging pause from those deeper autobiographical excavations.

Brand Extension Strategy by Zac Carmen & Charity Bass Murphy. Starring Gracie Taylor. Directed by Gracie Taylor.

The single performer aspect of Single Shots offers a showcase for each actor. Gracie Taylor brings her estimable talent and intelligence to a voracious businesswoman grappling with a possible unwanted pregnancy between slugs of bourbon and snorting various powders. It’s a very terse and bravura turn that tries to make sense out of a muddled premise. I couldn’t decide exactly what the material was going for with the idea that the woman treats the potential pregnancy as if it were a hostile takeover. The brevity of the piece and Taylor’s fierce; take-no-prisoners comic energy welcomes the audience on to the ride.

Confessions of a Reformed Glory Hole Bandit by Brian Walker. Starring Ryan Watson. Directed by Brian Hinds.

Brian Walker has a knack for making off-putting ideas work by always finding the humanity, even when the play is set inside a “glory hole” booth at an adult entertainment parlor. A man once known as “Glory Hole Bandit” has returned with a laptop to share his story with an online audience. Walker has never been shy about sex in his plays, and the action opens with the Bandit receiving a blowjob from the other side of the wall.

The dialogue is also very frank, as the man discusses various codes and protocols for venues. Ryan Watson shapes his delivery of the material with such dry humor and academic rigor that the offensiveness is measured against the loneliness and appeal of detached sexual congress of the circumstance. Not just any actor could pull this off, but Watson creates a fully developed, flesh-and-blood character that could be anyone’s friend or neighbor. It’s a point made explicit in some of the stories the Bandit tells about the extreme vulnerability of glory hole denizens. Even though he has returned to the booth, the Bandit seems to have grown beyond much of what the venue meant in his past life.

Shorts festivals always beg the question of when is a play a play and when is it a sketch, and I’ve seen plenty of smart, creative sketches. The material in Single Shots pushes a little further, landing between the 10-minute format and a full-length play and consistently providing some of the best one-act work from local writers to be found in Louisville.

The Louisville Improvisors & The Bard’s Town present: Single Shots

November 24 & 25, 2017

Louisville Improvisors
The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
502.749.5275
Thebardstown.com
Louisvilleimprov.com

 

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.





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