By James E. Trainor III
Cedar Rapids - This weekend, SPT wraps up the fifth show of its fifth season of its Tales from the Writers' Room series. The theme of the show, as you might have guessed, is the number five. Though the show has moved spaces over the years and brought on director Richard Barker, the quality and the format remain the same: funny skits, thoughtful monologues, and rocking music.
This time, SPT brought in special guests Jackson Bartelme and Hanna Spina. Both are excellent actors, and they fit right in with the SPT regulars. One particularly funny scene is "Germ Warfare," where Awki Nji plays a mother germ tells her two children, Sam and Ella (get it?) that they must observe the "five-second rule" that the humans seem to believe in. With their arms tugged into their sleeves and with excited, childish voices, Bartelme and Spina bring some great comic acting to this scene, making the conceit work very well. Bartelme also has a wonderful singing voice; he pairs in a duet with Doug Elliott for a rousing rendition of "I'm Gonna Be" to close the first act.
Special musical guest Matt Brooks plays a mean guitar, as showcased in the multiple solos in "Obviously Five Believers." He also sings, treating us to "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in the first act and an energetic "Plead the Fifth" after intermission. The songs in this show work particularly well, serious and sad when they need to be and rocking so hard you want to dance in your seat at times. It's impressive how well this band hangs together in a variety of styles.
Variety is the name of the game, and there are quite a number of different approaches to the skits and monologues. It's amazing how a simple writing prompt, the number five, can create such a wealth of scenes and stories. In "Five Stages of Grief," Mary Sullivan shows great acting range as she takes us through a comic rendition the concept, portraying an old woman mourning the loss of Bruce Aune's mustache. The close-to-home jokes continue as George and Martha tackle the Tree of the Five Seasons in "Man vs. Tree." In "Leap of Faith," Nji takes the fact that David took five stones with him when he went to face Goliath and weaves a moving piece about faith, fear, and taking big risks.
An interesting innovation in this installment is a series of microskits, where a bunch of set pieces or gags are thrown out at once. "Foibles In...", backed by the band playing "Take Five," shows us the cast in several humorous situations centering around the misuse of the number five throughout history. We also get a peek inside the Writer's Room itself, and we get to see Fiona Flanagan's numerous attempts to record a Public Service Announcement about responsible drinking. These bits are quick, simple, funny, and they're done with energetic acting and skillful directing. They're also well-placed to keep the show moving along, allowing SPT to fit a lot of funny into a short space of time.
Episode 5 plays again tonight at CSPS at 8:00. The sixth season of Tales from the Writers' Room begins in September; season tickets are on sale now. More information here.