This month Cooperative Performance runs a deliciously eclectic, little shorts program right downtown at the Underground Collaborative. The two-hour/one intermission program starts heavy, gets heavier and finishes light with some warm, endearing comedy that lingers pleasantly into the evening.
Here’s a look at what to expect if you go (and you should):
by Mary Buchel
directed by Eric Scherrer
performed by Brittany Meister and Raja “AayZee” Zafar
The program opens with a simple domestic drama. Husband and wife sit at a table near the close of a rummage sale. Raja Zafar is compellingly vacant as the husband until challenged by fate. A small artifact from his past becomes a rather large matter in the present, brining him into conflict with his wife.
Sharply reserved, Brittany Meister treads carefully as a woman forced to contend with the fact the one never knows the true significance of objects or moments. You never know the true meaning of something until it becomes life-changing for better or worse. It’s a complicated script that Meister and Zafar handle quite well under the direction of Eric Scherrer.
by Clayton Mortl
directed by Danielle Levings
performed by Jake Russell
original music composed and performed by Allen Russell
Jake Russell is a compassionate, extremely sensitive intellectual in a short but epic journey of a monologue. Russell is amazing storyteller. Jake Russell renders a depth of characterization and cerebral complexity that is deeply engaging on many different levels at once. The Clayton Mortl monologue he has so many moving pieces that are so very, very razor sharp in thematic concision. It would be easy for any actor to get lost in it all. Russell manages to modulate really well through a piece that might otherwise get lost in its own complexities in numerous places were it to be breathed in anything other than just the right way. Jake Russell nails it beautifully in one of the better pieces on the program.
devised and performed by Kelly Coffey and Don Russell
There’s the persistent sound of what might be heavy, hollow ceramic dragged against rough concrete. It is persistent and present throughout this entire third short. Kelly Coffey enters the stage and begins with captivating abstraction in monologue mixed with subtle restless movements. Kelly Coffey opens with a very earthbound verbal exposition of human behavior describing physical compulsions which echo all of those things that we as human beings seems so psychotically focused on. It’s all very precise and very, very aesthetically itchy.
Having rendered her behavioral obsession, Coffey is joined by Don Russell who walks on stage with a chair. The three of them--the two actors in the one piece of humble wooden furniture fall into a state of conflict. Russell is very much focused in on a very narrow kind of precision in placement with the chair. The chair seems almost apologetically inert in contrast to the two other performers with whom it shares the stage. It seems to be trying to bridge the gap between the two non-furniture organisms by simply being there as we are all trying to understand it by watching the stage conflict.
The progression of style in the program from one short to the next works to Coffey and Russell’s favor. Cooperative Performance has done a really good job of composing the program. One things lead to another and there's a kind of uneasy balance in a haunting abstraction of movement. Once Russell and Coffey have completed their conflict, lights rise on an intermission.
THE GHOST OF YOU
devised and performed by Emily Elliot
Emily Elliot works in arcs and respiration in a movement piece with spoken word pumped in around the edges of its entry. It’s spoken word about vulnerability and accountability. Very casually poetic movements and motions phrases and words. Hers is a very organic grace which bridges the abstract with something far more accessible. Hers is a brief journey that draws the program out of intermission and into far lighter fare than that which is onstage prior to intermission. Looking forward to more from Emily Elliot.
by Joel Kopischke and Don Russell
directed by Ro Spice-Kopischke
performed by Abigail Stein and Madeline Wakley
With a light, cheerfully frothy surface gently coating an engrossing inner complexity, this might have been my favorite piece on the program. This is surprisingly clever comedy. It’s an inter-species romance between a monkey and a cat--both of whom are entertainingly anthropomorphized. It’s so much more than that, though.
Kopischke and Russell create an impressively sophisticated relationship between two creatures that are human embodiments of all those things that we culturally associate with cats and primates. A cat and a monkey in a romantic relationship may sound like the set-up to cheap sketch comedy but there’s a considerable amount of depth here that really gets into the heart of why people are together in the first place and how we come to feel connected to each other.
Abigail Stein and Madeline Wakley exhibit warmth and complexity as a couple of people who are simply trying to connect-up but don’t know how. The fact that they’re animals fades into the background and we see two people and two archetypes trying to relate to each other. It's a comedy of frustration. Wakley enters first and firmly establish is a behavioral language to the piece that is fun and highly accessible. She's got a really solid balance between cat and human stage presence. It's endlessly fun to watch. Stein is fun as a monkey too. As I was sitting in the front row, she approached me and offered me a banana that she'd already taken a bite out of. (Given a second longer I probably would have gone for it.) It was a nicely ingratiating moment between man and monkey and woman playing monkey that mirrored the soul of the rest of the short. Very sweet stuff with great heart.
by Maria Pretzl
directed by Megan Orcholski
performed by Markaz Q Davis, Miranda Flores Farley, Brandon C Haut, and Ashley Retzlaff
Maria Pretzl crafts a fun, little sexy sitcom bite about a young guy (a crisply funny Brandon C. Haut) and a young woman (vivacious Miranda Flores) who are living together. They’re both quite sexually active, but they have absolutely no interest in each other at all. Things get weird when a guy she has hooked-up with (Markaz Q. Davis) and a girl he has come home with (Ashley Retzlaff) all end up in the same apartment.
The cast holds it all together quite well. It's sort of a modern bedroom farce for a short attention span that never lingers on stage for long enough to become anything other than fluffy, enjoyable silliness. It’s the perfect end to a program which had been to some particularly deep, dark places both intellectually and emotionally.
As a whole, the program is quite an odyssey. Remarkable how many different places the small, living stage can go in just two hours time given the right kind of momentum. Not all of it’s brilliant, but this type of show is exactly why I love smaller theater. So much going on in such a small space. So much to think about and so much time to think about it after the show.
Cooperative Performance’s One-Act Festival runs through June 23 at the Underground Collaborative on 161 W. Wisconsin Ave. For ticket reservations and more, visit Cooperative Performance online.