If you are looking for a non-holiday themed entertainment option, Browncoat Pub and Theatre is producing another Ron Hasson original script: “Cast Party.” Part love letter to his community theatre pals, part inside satire of life in the theatre, it is a lot of fun.
Brock (Andrew Liguori) and the cast of Ben Johnson’s “The Alchemist” are trying to get a table at a local restaurant for their small but heartfelt cast party after their show closes. They are being actively ignored by the waitstaff (Eddie Waters and Beau Mumford). “The Alchemist” cast—Shelly (Kristina Daniel), Gil (Casey Mills) and Lizzie (Andrea Young)—are basically a typical bunch of fun-loving community theatre types. Through them we meet Brock, the stressed-out, power-hungry director disappointed that his life is stuck in second gear. Shelly, the weird girl, manages to summon all attention to herself in all situations. Gil embodies the smarmy but charismatic guy who is only in this for as much sex as he can get. Lizzie is a middle-aged married woman, who uses theatre as a way to have friends, get out of the house and dress up in fabulous clothes. All are basically harmless, and easily repaid for most things with pizza and a little fawning attention. Is that too much to ask?
Into their world barges Anthony (KC Campbelloff) and Chloe Sunshine (Pam Smith), the stars and producers of the uber-successful stage musical across town in the fancy theatre. “The Invincibles” has just closed, and they are throwing a banquet at the restaurant, which has the waitstaff aflutter.
It is a real joy to see Campbelloff back on the Wilmington stage. I haven’t seen him perform since he stole the show in Shakespeare on the Green’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” two years ago. After such an over-the-top comedic performance, it was quite a surprise to discover him as the understated “straight man” to the jokes and hijinx of this show.
We watch our erstwhile performers head off in search of pizza and medical attention. At the pizza place, Waters and Mumford appear as unhelpful and dishonest attendants. At the Urgent Care, they appear again in the guise of a doctor and nurse who defy description or expectation. Waters and Mumford clearly are enjoying tormenting and taking advantage of these people at every turn. Mumford is doing his best to hold his own with Waters, but that sly grin and big personality packed into a small frame is pretty hard to compete with.
Mills and Daniel begin the show with a tremendous amount of nonverbal communication that they both proceed to heap upon their cohorts throughout the duration. Mills, especially, is interesting to watch, because even though his character is loathsome, he plays Gil with the conviction that he is a hero, not a swine. It’s a contrast to Smith who clearly plays Chloe as an A-1 bitch, who is quite thrilled with her bitchiness.
I stand in awe of Hasson’s output as a writer and performer. He appears weekly at TheatreNOW in Super Saturday Fun Time, has been in multiple shows this year, and continues to write and produce his own work at a rate of at least two shows a year. In accordance with his world view, Hasson tends to like shows with ensemble casts.
Director Michelle Vollmer’s work includes time as a drama teacher, which lends to inclusive shows with large casts. I think part of Hasson’s writing is an attempt to frame his perspective and experiences in a narrative he can manipulate from many angles. It’s like group therapy with a puppet master. He creates a variety of psyches and then sets up interactions for them so he can figure out how to alternately assuage them and make them twitch. The direction is beginning to head toward Tennessee Williams in the sense of using more subtext and less direct dialogue, but there are still some pretty heavy moments matching the action to the line.
So far I’ve seen “One Up,” Hasson’s very serious show about love and its pitfalls, and “Severe,” his truly avant-garde representation of the human subconscious onstage. Now, “Cast Party” is almost a Neil Simon-like observation at community theatre. It’s quite a range of work. It will be interested to see if 2015 brings a focus of that energy to a more specific genre. I think now that Tony Moore has moved away, Hasson is our most prolific playwright in terms of stage performances. Watching his refinement process should be interesting.
The set is minimal in “Cast Party” but really functional. Pieces shift and converge to become a doctor’s office, a pizzeria, a car, and a nighttime street intersection. The jagged shifting world of this group fumbling through the city in search of their cast party comes through pretty clearly. I long thought the Browncoat was an awkward space to sculpt a show in, but Aaron Willings’ work convinced me otherwise. Richard Blaylock’s set and Vollmer’s direction blend really well in this instance to have us moving through both time and space.
This group is having a great time together, and it is wonderful to see some new faces and the work of several performers that we see too rarely (Campbelloff and Mills, especially). More so, it is great to close out the year with an original piece of theatre. Outside of the sketch comedy shows, we have had several dozen performed here this year.
It might come as a shock to hear that there are communities that never mount an original play. But to have artists creating and testing new material and developing it into something truly worthwhile is pretty remarkable. It is also only possible with the support of theatre-goers—not just for the writers but the performers. If you are looking for a special and memorable holiday gift this year, consider tickets to a show. It’s a memory that can be shared for years to come, and an investment in our arts community that will appreciated by more people than you can count.
Browncoat Pub and Theatre
111 Grace St
Thurs..-Sun., Dec. 11 – 14, 8 p.m.; Sun. matinee: 5 p.m.
Tickets: $10 • (910) 341-0001