Tag. You're Weird.
KC Fringe Festival
Oh dear, oh dear. What do you do with a room full of skillets, alcohol, guns, tampons, and crazy PMS'ing women? You put it on paper, staple the thing, and call it "Skillet Tag." On July 21st, this farcical romp of pure silliness and old-comedy one-liners had its audiences either laughing, opening their eyes wide from shock, or squinting their eyebrows and pursing their lips in confusion or disgust. I suspect audiences won't walk away from this production saying "That was horrible" so much as "That was weird."
Pete Bakely, the writer of "Skillet Tag," is an actor and playwright in the Kansas City area. This play, in particular, seems to go above and beyond in every sense - far surpassing his entry into the Fringe Festival of 2011, Jet Propulsion; this script prized some very clever lines and ideas as well as some hilarious characters. And Bakely is not afraid to go past exactly where the audience thinks the line is.
That being said, it is unclear whether or not Bakely knows when to stop in this play. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but when you take into account the absolutely outrageous blunderings of characters and this play's 8 or 9 plausible endings, the question of where it should and if it should have stopped comes to mind.
At best, the director, Sam Slosburg, does a fair job in handling the moments in this play. At one moment, he'd incorporate a great physical stunt (choreographed by Jay "Jess" Akin) or fun action, and in the next, he uses the old never-successful device of having someone just not look into the center of the room…where the dead bodies are… and yelling "Where is everybody??" There didn't seem to be any playing spaces. Everyone was just meandering about the stage at random times (especially the character of Jeff at the beginning), and most of the time, it looked awkward and made the action of the play uninteresting. It is hard to differentiate what actions were in the script, what the actors thought of, and what the director came up with, but let's assume the funny moments when Burns, the cop, takes a picture with the corpse and when Jennifer checks her own pulse in addition to the unconscious man's were Slosburg's ideas. And in that case, some great directorial advice was taking place. And because there is no properties designer, let's assume Slosburg chose all the props that this show got from Function Junction….and in that case, great work was done to take this production a couple steps farther in its entertainment value.
Costume designs (Tess Roam) were very good until both cops walked in…unless this particular police force likes it when their officers are wearing oversized or undersized uniforms. Other than that, it was possible to guess the character-type based on clothes alone, and that's always pleasing. Some weird choices were made with the lighting design, done by Paul Tilson, in this production. Fading to red, darkening the stage, providing spotlights in moments….none of these choices seemed to accentuate or help the production in any way; they were just superfluous. But all the same, the whole production was silly, so the lights were not a terrible addition. Sound design by Cynthia Postlewait had the potential of being effective…if the cues had been executed on time more than just a few times. Fight choreography by Jay "Jess" Akin was superb and served as one of the strongest aspects of this show. And scene design by Sam Slosburg
Exceptional acting performances belong to Laura Jacobs (Jennifer) and J. Will Fritz (Greg). These two actors went above and beyond in attempts to make their character interesting - but not so much that they became unbelievable or unreal. Specifically, Jacobs had an iron-clad hilarious character, from which the audience could not pull their eyes away. In addition to them, we also have Aurelie Roque playing Katie, whose ability to play normal (with lovely dry humor) amongst a bunch of weirdos…led to a very nice performance. Phillip Shinn as Neal also gave a somewhat subdued and believable performance; Shinn's choices lacked some conviction, though. Becky (Kenna Marie Hall) and Jeff (Matt Leonard) were absolute nut-bars, and Hall and Leonard definitely went the distance providing an unreasonable and unprovoked weirdness for them. Although they did entertain their audience, not every one of their jokes landed as effectively as it could have. Kyle Wallen and Chelsey Tighe were the least believable as cops - or perhaps, they were the most misfit cops a play has ever seen. They both had their moments of humor, but ultimately, this sad realization really hits hard: actors who are onstage for a short period have way less time to develop their characters and grab the audience's attention. And neither actor did that.
The Kansas City Fringe Festival is known for original works and risk-taking. This production encompasses both - and there are some great jokes along the way. So go see it…but be prepared for…you know, some weird stuff.