by SOPHIE KERMAN
The sad comedian might be a cliche, but playwright Thomas Ward has turned the stereotype into some very three-dimensional characters in his insightful short play International Falls.
Directed by the Jungle Theatre’s Artistic Director Bain Boehlke, International Falls is being performed at the Bryant Lake Bowl, a much more fitting venue for a peek into a night in the lives of a burned-out comedian and a lonely hotel receptionist. The big, white Holiday Inn bed occupies most of the Bryant Lake Bowl’s small stage, directing our focus to the play’s main themes – marital problems, disconnection, frustrated ambition, lack of intimacy – while making the audience feel like it is sitting in the room next to the characters (and sometimes uncomfortably so).
But for a play involving sexual infidelity, booze, and some pilfered Xanax, not much actually happens in International Falls; the revelations occur through what the characters say (and don’t say), not what they do. This is theater for those who like Richard Linklater films (“Before Sunrise”, “Waking Life”); it is an exploration of life’s existential moments through the eyes of two people who have just discovered that they are not where they want to be.
It helps that we are watching actors who are deeply familiar with the material – Thomas Ward, the playwright, plays Tim (the comedian), and Ward’s real-life wife Sherry Jo Ward acts opposite him as Dee, a desk clerk and aspiring comedian who seeks out Tim as a vengeful one-night stand. Both actors have impressive capacities for portraying the odd moments of restraint between two strangers in a suddenly intimate situation; at the same time, the couple’s genuine connection helps to make the chemistry and banter between Tim and Dee feel natural and utterly plausible.
International Falls is a short, understated play that nonetheless packs a punch thanks to the actors’ strong, nuanced performances. Darkly funny and bitterly sad, it delves beneath each character’s guarded exterior to reveal the vulnerabilities hiding behind the laughs.
International Falls by Thomas Ward, directed by Bain Boehlke. May 31-June 9, 2013. 7:00PM (6:00PM doors). Bryant Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis. Info: www.bryantlakebowl.com | 612-825-8949. Tickets: $10 Advance/Student, $12 Door, www.Brownpapertickets.com.