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Midtown Productions presents a schizo show

Strangest hour of your life

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Sheri Grace Wenger and Ryan Ahlert, the mother/son team behind Midtown/Sheri Grace Productions, developed the idea for Short Attn. Span Thtr a decade ago. After a few successful productions and a relocation to Folly Road, they haven’t lost their focus.

The latest installment of Short Attn. Span Thtr began its three-night run Thursday with Vol. 1, promising “freshly comedic and borderline bizarre entertainment.” Located in a hole-in-the-wall storefront hidden within the strip mall behind the Folly Road Walgreens (if you make the trip, you’ll be thankful for these specific directions), the Charleston Acting Studio has an intimate, student showcase vibe, warmed up with ottomans, throw pillows, and an audience of enthusiastic friends and family. The avant-garde work presented moved spastically from sketch to short play to film at a frantic pace.

The show opened by transforming the typical theater introductory announcements — silence your cell phone, refrain from smoking, etc. — into an ensemble, multimedia work that mixed live action with film, including a planted audience member with an obnoxious cell phone. The action continued with six more playful pieces interspersed with the occasional outrageously un-P.C. 1950s television commercial.
    Works included Brandon Joyner’s darkly humorous short film Dunkin’, a spoof trailer for a horror film about a Dunkin’ Donuts worker who has poured one too many cups of coffee. The psychopathic worker-turned-serial killer targets the famous breakfast chain’s workers. Much bloodshed ensues.

A reinterpretation of a Larry David-written scene entitled “This and That” debates the touchy issue of sex with an ex. The live sketch show skillfully avoided falling into Elaine and Jerry imitations and comes off as fresh.

“The Awakening,” written by Ahlert and Tom Michal, was the longest film in the program. It follows a young man waking up, disheveled and confused from a booze-filled night, as he tries to piece himself together. Paranormal, seizure-induced flashbacks reveal his drunken mishaps and ultimately lead him to uncover the mysteries of the prior night.

The evening wrapped up exactly one hour from when it began, concluding with a comically nostalgic Reading Rainbow book report-style summary of the evening. After the curtain call, the actors spilled into the audience, greeting proud and boisterous friends and family. One actor was overheard enthusiastically inquiring, “So, was this the strangest hour of your life?”

The show left room for improvement. Overarching direction is needed to unify the individually directed pieces into a cohesive work. While the brief runtime is perfect for exploring progressive and multimedia theater, the individual pieces lacked editing and too frequently relied on tried and true jokes. Short Attn. Span Thtr — Vol. 1 is an innovative adventure that takes the audience along on a whirlwind ride, but in order to build interest in future volumes, the content needs to catch up with the concept.

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