Saturday, February 19, 2011

SPT Sticks Its Neck Out

By James E. Trainor III

SPT - Friday, February 18th saw another installment of SPT's "Tales from the Writer's Room," this show entitled "Pain in the Neck."

Special guest stars were David Bolt and Cherryl Moon Thomason, and special musical guests were Ron DeWitte, Dave Ollinger, Gayle Elliot and Greg Kane. Many of the skits and songs focused on the "pain" motif - everything from sorrow to irritation to physical agony. In "Love Scabs," David Bolt tells a touching and somewhat rambling tale of coping with shyness as a teen. In "Pain's Pain," Cherryl Moon Thomason mounts Dr. Peter Pizzle's podium as his mother, telling us what a pain the learned professor has been over the years. Both these performers embody their parts quite well and fill the space wonderfully.

Some of the skits ran with the "neck" part and created some humorous situations. In "Betty at the Stove," Mary Sullivan has to perfect a prize-winning recipe, despite the awkward crick in her neck, or risk losing her chance at the Golden Casserole Dish. In "Things Are Looking Up," Jason Alberty's neck problems trigger a humorous examination of mob mentality. These scenes have some great writing, and the execution of the physical comedy is a lot of fun to watch.

This show seemed to be a little more weighted toward the high-energy comedy than some previous shows, which tempered the fast-pasted hilarity with some truly tender moments. Part of this is probably due to the theme - we've all dealt with pains in the neck (metaphorical and literal), and it's cathartic to commiserate with each other, but one finds oneself wondering if there couldn't be a little more meat.

"Pain in the Sears" is a good example. Jason Alberty and Akwi Nji-Dawson are a frustrated customer and a pushy retail clerk, respectively. It basically consists of a monologue where Alberty complains of all the silly deals and surveys they try to push on you when you're on your way out the door, and it's quite funny, but the staging gave me pause. While Alberty monologues about his struggle to keep his temper, Nji-Dawson is frozen upstage, forever the peppy college student forced to stand as a "corporate shill." I couldn't help but feeling more empathy for her than for the shopper. This was addressed in the monologue, granted, but at the beginning, and the subsequent action consisted mainly of growing ire. It seems there was a missed opportunity to bring these characters into some resolution, because underneath the caustic comedy there was some serious social tension. Alas, the scene took a different path, and slipped out the door with a fourth-wall breaking joke. Oh, well. I can't say I'm particularly fond of the checkout ritual myself.

We did have some quiet, insightful moments in this orgy of orneriness: Akwi Nji-Dawson's monologue "Dust, Like Angels" and Mary Sullivan's poem "Gremlins" were joyful little gems. "Dust" dealt with finding your place in the world, and "Gremlins" was a very juicy poem about jealousy and heartbreak, which blended quite well into Doug Elliott singing "King of Pain."

Some of the best moments were actually the most raucous. "Here's Looking at You" starts with a very funny premise as Adam Witte is using an instructional CD (read by David Bolt) to learn how to tie a tie. It twists the premise when the reader diverges into a bitter rant about the suffocating, monotonous corporate environment the young man is looking forward to. David's delivery is priceless and Witte's physical performance fleshes it out marvelously. Also a blast was SPT's version of R.E.M.'s "Stand," in which they recreated the classic video.

The band was great as always. Particularly enjoyable was Ron DeWitte's precise, exquisite guitar work throughout all manner of rock and blues songs. His vocal solo, "Dangerous Mood," had a great feel.

David Bolt and Cherryl Moon Thomson were great guests as well, portraying babies in the nursery, old folks in the nursing home, and everything in-between. Both performers have a wealth of experience and a variety of talents, and it showed onstage.

"Pain in the Neck" has one more performance tonight. Sadly, this show is sold out, according to SPT's website. The next "Tales from the Writer's Room" is "Bottoms Up" on April 1st.

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