Xtreme Theatre Smackdown, produced by Theatre Unbound

brochure-8.5inx14in-doublegatefold-insideIt’s called the Xtreme Theatre Smackdown: Six playwrighting teams, a collection of actors and directors, and all y’all out there who provided input on the producing company’s (Theatre Unbound) website. Judging by the size of the audience, that was a respectable number of Smackdown enthusiasts.

Here’s how it works: Theater Unbound “referees” choose the required “ingredients” for each show: a line of dialogue, an object, an emotion, something random and the show organizers’ pick. That included, “If only I had learned Norwegian,” a monocle, a character with complete and absolute confidence, one actor touching another at all times, and a polar vortex.


At 9:00 p.m. Friday the playwrighting teams got the winning ingredients; at 9:00 a.m. Saturday the actors were cast and rehearsals began; at 8:00 p.m. it was curtain time.

What could have been a disorganized mish-mash was actually a pretty entertaining night of theater. There’s something a little bit spine-tingling about knowing those actors have to complete a play that can’t be more than half memorized – if at all. No, they can’t just make it up, as in straight improv; there was a story, an arc, clear characters and sometimes even a point in these scripts. We even had costumes, actors playing multiple roles, and a few light and sound cues. It had to hang together – and it did.

I can’t tell you who played what parts, given the information I have, but they know who they are. In “Color Guardians” Knutson, the pond hockey player spouted some pretty darn authentic Minnesotan and the Climate Change Fairy was a fitting – and funny – characterization. Lars (from Minot, North Dakota) in “Oui, Ja” nailed the deer-in-the-headlights response to a celebrity encounter. And the talking doll in “Talking Pollyanna,” turned cliché into touché with, “My name is Talking Pollyanna and I love you in a Minnesota nice way.” Her physical persona screamed passive aggressive. Good schtick.

The polar bears in “Tender Ursae” came off more like seals, which would have worked just as well. Honestly, it didn’t matter. With only room for two on the ice floe tour, one bear had to keep up in the water, flopping around with such abandon that it was guaranteed laughs. Really, you had to be there.

The winner for most successful plot was “The Case of the Noisy Neighbor,” with a silly twist that worked because the little Momma’s girl aced the coup de grace.

The introductory and connecting “olios” were completely superfluous in my book. If there was a real purpose to those, I missed it. The plays themselves were all the entertainment I needed.

Check the Theatre Unbound website for information; there may be video appearing at some point. The theater at the Women’s Club of Minneapolis made for a nice venue.


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