Friday, December 14, 2012

Living Room "Skillet Tag" review by BobEvans

Homicide and hijinks Rating: 5

Skillet Tag
Play On... Productions

Skillet Tag Knocks 'em Dead

Only if you saw the Fringe Festival shortened version of Skillet Tag will you have an inkling of what to expect, but this full-blown version expands the team building exercise to a 2-hour romp of madness.

For an evening full of laughter and offbeat characters, line up early and do not hesitate to buy your tickets. This show is the real deal. Crazy characters, masterful actors, sharp script, crisp direction, a functional set, good sound and lighting–all create one of the zaniest shows to grace the Kansas City stages.

Play writer Pete Bakely set the unconventional team building exercise in Kansas City. Here, his team from a local greeting card company meet to engage in his newest plan to weed out a weak link and sever his or her relationship with the parent company. No one knows for sure whose job may be lost, but several have their own ideas. Survival of the evening means every-man-for-himself.

Trusted in the hands of director Bryan Moses, Bakely's characters spring to life in a series of comical interactions and awkward encounters. Shades of Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" spring to mind as one by one the characters succumb to the author's absurd demises.

The audience knows from the start that they are in for an evening of laughs as Briana Marxen McCollom (Jennifer) mixes her first drink–one that would due-in an amateur drinker. Her inebriated character speaks the surest words of wisdom through the fog of liquor. Her stature, facial expression, and dry wit give a perfect contrast to the absurdity unfolding before her eyes.

Next, a harried personal assistant, Becky arrives to oversee and advance the team building exercise upon which someone's job hangs in jeopardy. Missy Fenerwall steps into the character of Becky with reckless abandon. Count on her character to surprise the audience through the performance. Her comic timing enhances her misplaces motives.

An uptight company legal representative, Aurelie Rogue (Katie) attempts to bring sense and sanity to the situation, only to be overly involved and left scrambling for her own extrication from the mayhem. Her legal training conflicts with her sense of survival and touch of larceny. Rogue plays the straight-laced legal representative with conviction. Her strong performance enhances her character.

Because he lacks the management skills necessary to run his office and trim his staff of misfits, Matt Leonard (Jeff) organizes a plan. He mistakenly chooses a teambuilding evening and a friendly game of skillet tag which goes drastically wrong. Without fully explaining the details and goals to his employees they "improvise" and plot to survive the game to save their hides (jobs). As they do, insanity explodes into the house. His ill-planned, self-serving party serves up the plot of the play and instigates the murder-madness. Leonard's smug characterization sets the tone for what follows. He inspires many early laughs. Be ready to laugh from his initial entrance.

Feeling safe, but wanting to enhance his standing with Jeff, the over-confident, dim-witted Neal, portrayed by Jeff Smith quickly lets everyone know he's gone to school, extensively and now holds a MBA, only to work as a bored marketing executive. He confesses trained monkeys could do his job. Neal's quick-thinking plans to dispose of corpses fail to gain traction with the much smarter women who hear his thoughts. Strong on looks, short on smarts defines Neal's character. Jeff Smith dives in to the character with conviction and believability. His acting brings laughs throughout the show and his physical comedy skills play well with the other cast members. His character just has a likable ease that draws the audience to watch him. He delivers preposterous plans to dispose of bodies with such conviction and honesty that he deserves the laughs he elicits.

And, undeniably, the most cherished and colorful of the cast of suspects, Greg brings the hilarity from his entrance onward. Coleman Crenshaw wears the character well and his physical comedy, gestures, and facial expressions keep the audiences laughing at him. But, beware, by watching only him, one can easily miss the responses he elicits from the other cast members–which are priceless. He gives their characters a lot for action and reaction. Still, when onstage, Crenshaw draws the audience focus to him He's wonderful as the computer nerd who struggles with social settings and personal relations.

After the first death, rightfully, the police appear. And what would any comedy be without dysfunctional law enforcement personnel? Suffice it to say the tandem of Burns and Reynalds, played by Tim Alhenius and Devon Barnes, take police parody to new heights. A non-concerned Burns mishandles the crime scene, and when Reynalds appears, her over-spirited reactions only enhances the evening's morbid terminations. Though smaller parts, each provided integral support to the plot and help maintain the insanity.

Overall, the show bring laughter and smiles from the onset through the final blackout. No one knows who dies next or how murder manifests itself. Each instance surprises the audience. Murder never brought more laughs. The cast reacts well to each and every line, and each character commands the stage with his or her antics.

Even the first character to die, though limited in time, stamps the character indelibly in the audience's mind before an unplanned demise. And, be prepared, even in death the character garners laughs from how and what other characters do to verify the death. To say more would give away too much and spoil the surprise. Suffice it to say, the character remains a presence throughout Act I.

No secret, Coleman Crenshaw's character steals the show in his scenes. He's very talented with his physical comedy and apt delivery. And when things seem to be resolving toward an end, Devon Barnes brings new and surprising twists to the story line. Nothing can distract from the strength of the ensemble cast. They enjoy the show, their characters, and their lines. The audience sees the depth of the cast's talent as the story unfolds. Their interactions and physical comedy enhance the evening.

Possible the only weakness detected stems from the small venue and no microphones. On a few instances, when things get wildly crazy and truly rapid-paced, some dialogue is lost. Just slowing down a some of the frantic scenes would help the dialogue pop out Still, take nothing away from the show or the performers. Small adjustments will evolve as the show continues its run.

Kansas City boasts a wealth of talent. And, when small venues like The Living Room present top-notched and highly talented actors, the fact is obvious. The cast for Skillet Tag displays Kansas City comedy at its best. With only 40 seats and a limited run, not enough people can see this hilarious spoof.

If you have ever had to undergo the dreaded "teambuilding" process in a workplace, this show is not to be missed. All the evil thoughts you may have had about the exercise or the person who thought the whole thing up, come full circle when you see this. While you may have plotted someone's demise, Skillet Tag acted out your fantasies.

Do not miss this comedy. Word of mouth needs to spread because advertising has been limited and the show is not listed on The Living Room's website. To advance purchase tickets, you need to go to and search for Skillet Tag. You will not be disappointed in the show.

The cast, director, crews, technical staff and producers need your support to encourage even more of these quality productions.

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