Monday, March 9, 2009

A Review of Walking the Wire: Food

Riverside - For ten years, Riverside Theatre has offered its audience an evening of original monologues called Walking the Wire. This year’s evening was centered around a subject near and dear to all of our hearts: food. Monologues can be the most difficult of all theatrical challenges. One actor on stage talking the audience. As any actor will tell you, teamwork is key to a good production. You have to know and trust your fellow actors. With a monologue, you’re on your own. It can be terrifying. Fortunately, the actors chosen for this year’s Walking the Wire were all excellent.

The show began strong with an engaging monologue that used the metaphor of a leftover piece of chicken to tell us about the various phases of a relationship. Written by Dale Mackey of Knoxville, TN, “Throwing Out is Hard to Do” was admirably performed with a growing desperation and comedic despair by Lorin Ditzler.

One of the finest monologues, “A Taste of Home” by Gwendolyn Rice of Madison, WI, was performed by Rachael Lindhart, one of our Iowa City area acting legends. With an easy and comfortable manner, Lindhart told the story of how learning to love Thai food brought her a greater understanding of people of different cultures. By contrasting what the character learned with her mother’s reactions, we were given a complete coming of age story in a heartfelt monologue. While the monologue took a little while to get going, the truly excellent writing combined with natural storytelling made this piece a winner.

“Becoming Italian” by Claudia Haas of White Bear Lake, MN struck me where I live. My last name isn’t Falduto for nothing. Actress Kristen Behrendt told the story of how her mother had ingrained in her a sense of self through the Italian food she had taught her to make. Wonderfully true (and horrifying) moments such as how Midwesterners make lasagna with cottage cheese echoed my own experiences as an Italian stuck in Iowa. Pass the canoli and give me more of Haas’ memories.

Two monologues that tried too hard were “Worth in Numbers” by Neeley Gossett of Marietta, GA and “Sandbags and Sandwiches” by Shirley King of Benicia, CA. The numbers gimmick in Gossett’s piece grew tiresome quickly despite the fact that the audience was learning important facts about how women can obsess about their waistline. It’s difficult to say whether the acting or the writing doomed “Sandbags and Sandwiches” as it just never got going.

There were other excellent monologues, but two need to be singled out. North Liberty native Brian Tanner’s “Special Delivery” about a pizza man’s strange encounters and “Sacrificial Turkey” by Janet Story Schlapkohl of Iowa City garnered the biggest laughs. William Czerwionka melded a stance, a voice and an attitude that perfectly captured a pizza delivery guy. “Sacrificial Turkey” ended the evening on a hilarious note. Schlapkohl performed her own piece, telling the familiar tale of a woman attempting to make Thanksgiving dinner under the watchful and critical eyes of her mother in law. Except just to add to the pressure, grandmother-in-law invades the kitchen too! Schlapkohl expertly created the characters of the mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law with a clever accent and a slight contortion of her body. The audience loved this final piece and exited the theatre on a very high note.

While this year’s Walking the Wire is over, be sure to check it out next year. It’s clear Riverside takes time picking interesting monologues and pairing them with excellent actors.

--Matthew Falduto

Matthew has a Bachelor's degree in English from the University of Iowa. He has directed, acted in, and produced theater in the Iowa City area for over ten years. He has worked with the Iowa City Community Theatre, City Circle and Dreamwell, of which he is a founder. Two of his plays have been produced in the Iowa City area. In another brief life, he also worked as a technical writer.

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