THE AUDIENCE CASTS THE COMEDY
AND THE CHAOS IS PERFECT
It is not fun to be the “RUNT” this month in Alameda Ca. Altarena Playhouse is all about EAT THE RUNT by Avery Crozier, his “how not to get a job” comedy sketch of sorts - written without any pronouns and sexual identity (gender-neutral) for Crozier’s eight member cast. - It could well be cast with all male or females - but Director Timothy Beagley cast a mix of color and suits. Beagley explains “What defines a character's identity, when there is the possibility of any gender, age, or race to play any role? Cultural stereotyping one night may become sexual harassment the next.” The comedy is very clever and sets up some great discussion topics about getting a job based on sex, race or wit.
It is a simple story as we follow a job candidate interview for a grant writer for a Chicago art museum. That could hardly keep you in your seat for 90 min - so the twist and the fun is introduced by the host (director Beagley) who asks us (the audience) to cast the show each night. The actors don’t know which role they will get for each performance until they are voted in at each show. This process of casting EAT THE RUNT for me was the most interesting part of the evening. Each actor has to pitch or audition each night to be part of the cast and be convincing. The talented cast includes Jason Berner, Diana Brown, Jayme Catalano, J Jha, Jacqui Herrera, Dan Kurtz, Kim Long, Fred Pitts, Sondra Putnam, and Max Thorne and their nightly auditions are humours and the best part of the evening. Max Thorne and J Jha are standouts. Beagley cleverly sends off the one un-cast member home “survivor” style with the burning torch and CBS sound effect. Nine actors make up the cast with one sitting out each night.
Its difficult to share thoughts about this talented cast since they are all first rate performers. Each member has to know the entire script and each character's lines. Its a demanding requirement to EAT THE RUNT. Director Beagley does an excellent job creating the perfect timing for each of his company to toss and turn the eight characters in RUNT. The speed of the story doesn’t leave much out when it comes to gender bending comedy, Shakespeare was a master at bending the line between male and female actors and Crozier gets close to that skill. He makes sure the characters hit on some off the wall topics, many that a fund raiser for an art museum would never come across. But this allows the talented company to riff some fun topics that people face when heading to job interviews. Including fighting with your roommate (lover?) for the title.
The comedy keeps the audience and the company on edge, Crozier’s narcissism challenges us to study racial and gender roles in the workplace and beyond. The job candidate named Merritt deals with some challenging interviews that are intense funny and power plays we have all seen in our own work sites. As Merritt moves through the maze of job interviews they get more outrageous and bizarre. The casting turned upside down on the question of race when a white actor is playing a black character and the role reverses is very clever and funny.
The Job candidate Merritt (who tends to be the lead of the story) brings the fast tale of a job factory to the characters main shtick during his meeting with the museum director in a monolog "If people are stupid enough to smoke, put more carcinogens into cigarettes and let the fools die faster" the subtext of the play's title, is his own dog who, when he had puppies "ate the runt". The comedy is fast pace and perfect with any of the cast in any of the roles. The second act moves fast and has some perfect surprises.
The set designed by Stewart Lyle, is clean and grey white scale, that includes a nice video screen to feature the Art of this Chicago Museum. A nice staircase is used wisely for some comic entrances. The lighting by Courtney Johnson is well done featuring some dramatic pools of light to pull away the action from the main set. The cast is dressed in formal black and white - in some cases cross dressed to perfection by designer Liz Martin who updates some of the wear depending on what the character needs. Artistic Director Clay David is a master with all the props for the Museum office, including art deco highlights. EAT THE RUNT has over 40,000 casting possibilities - I recommend that you at least catch one them, my guess is that the sold out audiences of this clever run will be back to see more of the RUNT. It runs through Sept 13th get your seats soon they are going fast.
Altarena Playhouse Presents
'EAT THE RUNT'
By Avery Crozier, Directed by Timothy Beagley
August 14th Through Sept. 13
Altarena Playhouse, 1409 High St., Alameda
Running time: 2 hours,
Photos by Melissa Nigro