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Humanity Stew

Humanity Stew
Corn Stock Winter Playhouse
February 13-14 & 19-22
By Christopher Grey

Witty dialogue, physical comedy, farcical situations, and great timing are the hallmarks of comedy. Corn Stock theatre’s staging of Humanity Stew provides all of this. Peoria has a rich tradition of theatre and this world premiere continues that lineage.

Humanity Stew is a collection of nine short plays by local playwright Hale Garrison. The comedies are unrelated to one another but combine to make a satirical statement about our collective humanity. The night opens, and ends, with plays entitled Grandpa’s Wisdom where a grandfather gives life advice to his granddaughter and questions her new ways of doing things. The grandfather/granddaughter relationship is relatable and sweet. As the evening of plays closes the grandfather reminds his granddaughter that life is really about love and ice cream where ice cream is a metaphor for those things in life we indulge in with pure passion and without regard for how others may judge us.

The seven plays sandwiched in the middle are comedies designed to help us laugh at ourselves. In You Don’t Remember Me, Do You? Buddies Joel and Bill try to figure out how Joel knows the waitress. The play grows as the waitress calls out Joe for not remembering her and buddy Bill antagonizes the situation both at the sake of Joel and for the delight of the audience. The scene grows in intensity, and hilarity, and is full of great one liners. Joel’s “excuse” for looking at the waitress’s nametag brought down the house. After giving up trying to figure out where Joel knows the waitress from and being harassed by his buddy into leaving a large tip, we discover the waitress pulls the same bit on the next patron. This is a common theme of the night; the plays highlight a ridiculous aspect of our humanity and then as the play appears to be winding down, we see the same aspect begins to repeat for a new set of players. Actors Tim Wyman and John Carroll played off of each other well in this play and their teasing and bromance is contrasted well by Emily Trulson-Kumar’s snippy, dramatic-waitress. This play was the strongest of the night and set a great tone.

Effingham, Illinois, the third play, explored class issues setting a middle-class neighbor in a blue-collar home for Thanksgiving. Sterotypes, physical comedy, and over-the-top dialogue combine to see family get-togethers in small-town America. Act One ends with Red, Blue, Whatever which is a social commentary on how America has created a false dilemma. It becomes aware in this play that the evening of plays is not just about the humor but also are a satirical examination of our humanity.

NIMBY opened the second act and was a play about a large corporation bribing small town elected officials into placing an unseen, yet grotesque plant in their town proper. The physical comedy in this piece is strong and is led by the corporate representatives played by Liz Scoville and Andrew Jon Rhodenbaugh. Returns explores the challenges of returning an item to a store and the fear we all have that we will be questioned by the all-powerful clerk running the return counter. Jo Steinberg plays the returns lady and her deadpan, straight woman is a perfect response to Nathan Irwin’s customer. Precious, Pretty Puppies is a dark look at how celebrity is both sought after and destructive once found. My Show also challenges how we have allowed media to distort reality exploring two people, both with their own reality shows, reconcile and rediscover the need to turn off the cameras.

Director Victoria Kapanjie-Rians has assembled a large cast to stage these nine comedies. Each play has its own feel and combine nicely to make a social commentary. There are times where the dialogue lagged and the cue pickups are slow but the quick scene changes and variety of styles kept the evening moving. It is always nice to see local talent and this play brings together local writers, directors, designers and actors to highlight the rich talent Peoria has to offer.

Humanity Stew runs Thursday, February 19 through Saturday, February 21 at 7:30 pm and on Sunday, February 22 at 2:30 pm at the Corn Stock Winter Playhouse. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students and are available at the Corn Stock Box Office, by calling 309-676-2196 or online at www.CornStockTheatre.com

Posted February 16, 2015