Drive around in the vicinity of Madison and you’ll see the name on road signs. Verona, Wisconsin. (A city of 10,000 outside of Madison.) The name of that town always seemed to suggest an interesting location for a Wisconsin-based adaptation of the romantic Shakespeare drama that is famously set in Verona, Italy. The obvious joke makes it to the stage courtesy of writer/funny guy Michael Christopher and Emerald Condor Productions as it stages a fun, little light comedy at the Alchemist Theatre this month. Originally developed for Madison’s Broom Street Theater, the comedy in question is Dick Pix Montana--a spoof of Romeo and Juliet set in contemporary Verona...Wisconsin.
Two Young Lovers Separated by Text
Bryson Langer and Katie Katschke play a pair of young Millennials who fall in love in suburban Wisconsin. Michael Christopher puts the two high school kids through an extended courtroom drama spoof that ultimately results in...social suicide. The heaviness of the original story is made light in a breezy sketch comedy haze that also manages to cast a stern glance in the direction of the law as it pertains to sexting. (I honestly don’t know why I didn’t see that coming given the name of the comedy. The program lists an anonymous “Legal and Procedural Consultant.” For light sketch-like comedy, this show makes a surprisingly sober point about current laws.)
The Humor of ...y'know...the Casual
Bryson Langer is enjoyably affable as the Nice Guy Romeo--a guy named Richard Montana. His penchant for getting interceptions on the football field has earned him the name “Picks.” (So...y’know...Dick “Picks.”) Anyway...Katie Katschke has a nicely appropriate deadpan delivery even for the weakest humor. I love that they’re really casual about the romance. Langer and Katschke have a really nice nonchalance as high school characters who have taken a liking to each other. In a culture raised on social media, everything’s cool. No big deal. It’s just love, y’know?
There are Other People Too
There are some great appearances in and around the edges. Writer Michael Christopher shows-up as the prosecuting attorney. He’s got sharp delivery and a sense of subtlety in places that go a bit beyond the level of standard sketch comedy. Also of note here are Michelle White as a local news anchor, J.J. Burch as the chronically distracted judge and J.J. Gatesman (yes: a TWO J.J. production) as Richard’s good friend Ben Volio.
The Dragging of the Comedy
Shaving the original story into 70 minutes (give or take) and turning it into a courtroom drama keeps the whole thing feeling quite breezy. Some of the comic rhythm is thrown-off a bit as the script features A LOT of scene changes. There are twenty scenes listed in the program. That’s a lot of, “fade to black, move things around, lights rise...and action,” to throw into anything less than 90 minutes and it can feel like it’s dragging in places.
The Comedy of the Comedy
The comedy in Christopher’s script comes primarily from three different places: Shakespeare, Millennial culture and the sweaty basement of sketch comedy.
...I'm Just Saying...
The standard sketch milieu is apparent from the beginning. All other elements aside this IS a courtroom comedy in which a Romeo-like character is standing trial for accidentally posting a sexually explicit picture (intended for Julia) on Instagram. So there are going to be dick jokes and such. Personally I would have liked to see the lowbrow stuff fade into the background in favor of a more determined focus on satire specific to South Central Wisconsin, but there’s some of that there as well.
The Shakespeare Thing
There are quite a few Shakespearian references here. Some of them work quite well. One cannot stage a comedy like this without making some reference to West Side Story...which is handled here by surmising a two-high school “Verona East” and “Verona West” rivalry with Sharks and Jets. Cute. The Jets wear the logo for the NFL team. Julia can be seen wearing a shark snuggie as she texts her Romeo. It’s cute.
The Millennial Thing
Then there’s the whole Millennial end of things. Romeo and Juliet suggests a traditionally tragic romance. Michael Christopher does a good job of comically juxtaposing traditional romance against the realities of contemporary young love. Parents can forbid kids from seeing each other, but in an era of social media, it’s really difficult to keep them away from each other. The two characters might have only seen each other in person a couple of times, but through social media they know each other a lot better than Shakespeare’s lovers did. It’s more of a casual romance.
Key conversations in the course of the play take place over text messaging complete with emojis that pop-up on cards net to the actors. There’s a clever economy to the emoji cards. There’s a clever timing between the cards and the dialogue that amps-up the overall cuteness of the production as a whole. It might not always be as clever as it’s trying to be and not every joke is terribly funny, but there’s a cuteness at the heart of the production that holds it all together quite well.
Emerald Condor Productions’ Dick Pix Montana runs through Mar. 17 at the Alchemist Theatre on 2569 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. For ticket reservations, visit Brown Paper Tickets online.