Twenty-five years ago, a group of young, bright-eyed actors were eager to start their own theatre company here IN Wilmington but had no space to perform. A frequent haunt of this ragtag group of performers and theatre lovers was O’Friel’s Irish Pub, formerly located on Market Street.
The group approached the bar’s owner, Kevin Freel, told him their story and made their case for the opportunity to perform at his bar. Kevin saw the passion for the arts dripping from these young people and allowed them to perform at O’Friel’s. Thus, both the City Theater Company and the Pub Plays were born.
So, to round out their 25th season of performances, CTC has brought the Pub Plays and Kevin Freel (who has recently moved back to Wilmington after a 16-year absence in Chicago and serves as host for the night) back to Market Street at The Grand Opera House’s versatile Studio One space.
This series of five one-act pieces comprise an evening which will surely give audiences food for thought and lots of laughs. All of these works are directed by George Tietze, who also appears in two of the night’s scenes—one of which (Betty), was penned by Tietze.
Kicking-off the night is a prevalent piece among scene study groups and college acting classes, Sure Thing by David Ives. Taken from a larger string of scenes called All in the Timing, Sure Thing is a commentary on what it is to date in the modern world by examining different variations of the old “boy meets girl” plot and the usual trite or uninviting pick-up lines that follow.
Featured here are two fresh faces to CTC, Anthony Paparo and Rebecca Cook. Each of these actors exude the wanting and yearning to find the perfect mate through a variety of a possible conversations that end with one or the other ringing bell that give each a fresh start and a second chance to make a good impression on one another.
Another tale follows this one (Beef Junkies, which I well get to later in this review) and is followed by a brief intermission. What comes after intermission was the highlight of the Pub Plays, for me—a sequence written by Wilmington’s own Matt Casarino, who audiences will know as one half of “Delaware’s premier acoustic dork-rock power duo,” Hot Breakfast.
Casarino’s creation, Green Eggs and Mamet, takes Dr. Seuss’s famed Green Eggs and Ham and turns it on its head as if written by American Theater Hall of Famer, David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, American Buffalo. Actors Anthony Paparo and David C. Hastings’ comedic timing as they tackle Cassarino’s brilliant blend of Seussian rhyming and expletive-ridden text in the Mamet style will bring the audiences to tears with laughter.
Next in the lineup is All About Emily by Drury Pfeifer. This thought-provoking and satiric look at gender roles, the academic elite, and mental wellness features Rebecca Cook, David C. Hastings, Christopher Banker, Mary Catherine Kelly, Allyson Sands, and Tricia Sullivan. All About Emily is full of references to the works of Emily Dickinson and also provides many laughs both in wit and costuming. Standout among the actors in this piece is Chris Banker who bravely dawns a sundress and cropped cardigan as he portrays a “looney from the mental ward” and calls him/herself “Emily Dickinson”.
The other two one acts that comprise the evening, Beef Junkies (Jonathan Dorf) and Betty (written by and starring Pub Plays Director, George Tietze), transport the audiences into The Twilight Zone. Both of these sequences take us to strange alternate realms that are unlike the world we currently know and inhabit. Even Kevin Freel said that “Rod Serling is smiling somewhere,” after one of these performances.
The former of these, Beef Junkies, features CTC Artistic Director Kerry Kristine McElrone, George Tietze, and a familiar face to CTC audiences, Chris Banker. Set in, what I interpreted as, a dystopian future; Beef Junkies shows us a world in which all meat (beef, pork, fish, etc.) is a major commodity that is extremely coveted, hard to come-by, and disseminated as if an intravenous drug. McElrone’s depiction of a spastic addict craving another hit of beef shines along with Tietze’s menacing portrayal of a man desperate for fleshy narcotics.
The final act of the evening, Betty, takes us to one room where one man, “David” (played by Tietze), is being “monitored” by a HAL 9000-like artificially intelligent interface known as “Betty”—think a mix of 2001: A Space Odyssey meets Spike Jonze’s Her meets Disney’s Smart House.
The highlight of this piece is CTC newcomer, Adiah Simpson as “HerBot6000,” a faux-human android who “Betty” can embody to have a physical relationship with her human ward. Simpson delivers a perfectly stiff and dead-eyed performance as “HerBot6000” which created much of the scene’s levity. Simpson also provided the scene change choreography, which helps break up some of the monotony in moving from each scene and give us all a chance to grab another drink from the cash-only bar.
As Kevin Freel said before the Friday evening performance started, “Relax, grab a beer or whatever, and have a good night.” City Theater Company’s Pub Plays continues Wednesday, May 1 through Saturday, May 4 at The Grand Opera House’s Studio One. For tickets, visit www.TheGrandWilmington.org or call 302.652.5577.