Saturday night I trooped it over to the hard-to-reach Chopin Theatre — that eclectic venue that’s currently featuring an even more eclectic evening of short new works as part of Sketchbook X. The Sketchbook festival, produced by Collaboraction, debuted in 2000 and has steadily gained a reputation as one of the most provocative mixed media theatre festivals in the U.S.
Surprisingly, this was my first visit of the four-hour festival. I didn’t know what to expect — “The sky’s the limit,” says press notes. I only stayed for the first half, which was two hours long and included nine sketches (10 were scheduled; apparently one dropped out).
It’s a very free-form evening; i.e., you can come and go as you wish during the show — a feature that proved wearisome as I kept having to let folks in and out of my aisle between each sketch. But that comes with the territory, I guess. To avoid all that nonsense, you can also watch the thing online for free — one of the many high-tech whiz-bang features of the strongly produced evening.
Things start off on a bizarre note with The Saint and the Imp, devised by Carolyn Hoerdemann, which follows a time-traveling, world-touring punk rock duo. Yeah, I didn’t get it, though I appreciate the effort. In fact, I didn’t really get most of the pieces that were “devised” by people. (What does that even mean, anyway?)
Highlights include a creepy rock musical, What I’m Looking For, that uses Rufus Wainwright’s “Tower of Learning” and a cast of 24. When I was… is another well-developed concept, exploring the evolution of man and intergenerational relationships. However, it features a sizable cast of youths, making me feel like we were suddenly transported to a middle school forensics competition. And it was long.
Following that, The New Colony offers a riotous high point of the evening: Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche. It’s 1956, and we’re attending “The Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein” meeting. The ladies of the Society are debuting their new quiche, and they can’t wait to taste it. But they’re nervous! Will they like this new recipe? After some hesitation, however, they all dig right in. (You get the joke, obviously — I just wished all those kids from the previous sketch were taken home by their parents immediately following their performance. Yikes.)
Ending the first half of the evening, The Untimely Death of Adolph Hitler, by Andy Grigg, is another off-beat comedic piece about a guy who travels through time to kill Hitler prior to WWII (but things don’t go quite as planned). However, after a strong start, it sadly fizzles.
These two wacky pieces are wonderful reprieves from an evening of sketches that tend to take themselves far too seriously. This includes the trite, though strongly acted, Tight Curls Today by Jennifer Barclay, which basically boils down every chick flick into seven minutes of concentrated “ugh.”
But, as an entire evening, I was rarely bored (for too long), and the creative talent in this city never fails to amaze me. Kudos to the organizers and stage managers who effectively trafficked each sketch on and off with minimal downtime. Maybe next year I’ll plan ahead for all four hours.
“Sketchbook X” plays through June 27 at the Chopin Theatre. More info >