So, I’ve spent the last couple of posts kinda complaining about things that are tough about this business so today I wanted to talk about one of the wonderful things – through chatting with, working with people, networking and the general “birds of a feather flock together”-ness of theater folks – it’s very easy in this business to make friends with and establish connections to an incredible network of talented, like-minded folks. One of those people (in my tribe) is Jake Lipman, Actress and Artistic Director/Producer of Tongue In Cheek Theater Productions. We met through a mutual acquaintance who thought, “huh, you both are women with theater companies who have similar views on the world and are, like 5′ tall, y’all should meet” and introduced us. I know what your thinking, you’re thinking, “well, I don’t know if that’s really enough similarities to base a lasting friendship on, there must be thousands of women with theater companies out there.” In response to you I say 1) frighteningly, there actually aren’t all that many women-run theater companies out there so we’ll flock together whenever we can AND, more importantly, 2) one of my mother’s best and longest friendships (we’re talking like 40 years here) came about because a mutual friend of theirs noticed they were both pregnant at the same time and so “would have a lot in common” and that acquaintance turned into a life-long friendship (see the 40 years thing). So clearly, if the universe wants you to be friends with someone, it will find a way to push y’all together, even if, at first glance, the similarities are only on the surface.
But, as usual, I digress… Tongue in Cheek is the same company that brought us last October’s terrific production of Our Town and, after that experience, you can imagine, how excited I was when Jake invited me to see Tongue In Cheek’s latest production, The Mistakes Madeline Made by Elizabeth Meriwether at The Bridge Theater at Shetler Studios. As I’m coming to expect from TIC Theater, this dark comedy was a great evening of theater, the only major drawback of which was the short run – only 7 performances. The play follows the story of recent grad Edna who takes a job assisting a wealthy family. She is visited by visions of her late brother Buddy and micromanaged by an insipid boss, Beth, compelling her to rebel with the help of quirky co-worker, Wilson. As she tries to find her way, throughout the play, Edna dates a series of pompous writers.
The play was filled with very funny/slightly surreal moments, which in and of itself was not much of a surprise considering the playwright would go on to create and produce the Fox television show New Girl, starring Zooey Deschanel. But what did surprise me was how moving the play managed to be in the midst of some “wackiness” and though I’m sure that was a factor of the writing, it was also due to the direction by Brock H. Hill and the work of the extraordinary cast.
Speaking of that cast – to be honest, the entire ensemble was wonderful. As Drake/Jake/Blake, Joe Mullen, with very little stage time, managed to create 3 entirely different characters while still portraying a clear archetype – “the pompous writer”. As Buddy, Jeremy Patrick Hamilton found the grounded reality of the “ghost” character, making him seem both a figure we completely know and a cipher we could never hope to know at the same time. Jake Lipman (and yes, I said she’s my friend so I’m a bit biased, but I’m also a director, I know real talent when I see it, and perhaps that is one of the reasons she IS my friend) Jake Lipman was hilarious as the insipid boss Beth, but she also played her in that way that only truly good comic actresses have of making sure that the character isn’t aware of the joke. Ms. Lipman’s Beth was so real that I actually broke out in a cold sweat at one point flashing back to conversations with those pointlessly irritating and particular bosses I’ve had in the past. Those bosses who’ve attended management seminars and read leadership self-help books and think, think, they are brilliant, people-managers. They think they’re the exact person who knows how to get the best out of talented people but instead are just completely clueless as to how to inspire committment, loyalty, and talent from their staff. And yet, in the midst of that very real portrait, Jake also gave us these little glimpses into the fact that as irritating and insipid as Beth is, she’s also a real person with feelings of her own-feelings that can easily be hurt. A.J. Heekin took a role that could have just been irritating or self-conciously quirky and turned Wilson into another real person, struggling with idiosyncracies and tics. Because of Mr. Heekin’s deft touch, very subtly and very quietly, Wilson moved from what seemed to be peripheral character to become the very heart of this little show. And Shelley Little – what to say about Ms. Little? I mentioned Shelley Little in my review of Our Town as I had been impressed with her work there but particularly in The Mistakes Madeline Made, I was blown away by her portrayal of Edna. We easily caught Edna’s wry humor and sarcastic shell holding everyone at arms length, but it was Shelley’s extremely moving portrayal of Edna’s inner weakness that, when exposed, became quietly devestating. By the end of the play, much to my surprise, I found myself reaching for tissue after tissue. (And, because it’s one of my pet peeves when an actress can’t do this, I want to specifically applaud Shelley Little for crying actual tears instead of just scrunching up her face and being “sad”. I’m a sympathetic crier from way back, so the actual tears were truly moving. )
As with Our Town, TIC once again was able to bring me humor interspersed with really moving, and emotionally effecting drama. Although The Mistakes Madeline Made has finished its run, I would like to HIGHLY recommend that you get yourself on their mailing list and be sure to catch whatever project they next have up their sleeves. You won’t be disappointed!
For more details on Tongue In Cheek Theater be sure to check their website here.