Photo caption: Sparking the anger of submarine Capt. Flint (Kenneth Goltz) is hapless crewman Taffy (Scott Roemaat) in a rehearsal scene from the Cardboard Theater premiere production of “Subaverage Explorers.” (The Green Room Lounge photo)
Cardboard boxes. Something about used cardboard boxes frees the imagination of kids to build makeshift forts and space ships and doll houses and so much more.
That aura is at the core of Cardboard Theater, which Friday night put on its first performance to a gush of excitement and enthusiasm in The Green Room Lounge.
The premiere was like no other, except maybe for some kid’s backyard show. In this case, “makeshift” does not apply.
The first fun with “Subaverage Explorers” is just sitting and examining the set backdrops and set pieces. The story takes place inside a submarine. The submarine’s framework – the bolted-together walls – is made up of pieces of neatly placed cardboard. In the corner is a desk, also neatly created. In front of the desk is a control panel of sorts that gives the impression of being aboard a sub. On the wall is a telephone, a serious bit of imagination for the earphone and speaker part that come into use when the phone becomes theatrically real. This submarine takes the theatrical liberty of having portholes, which can be moved for important scenes when action moves outside the sub.
Along the way, more-than-makeshift props will show up. Included are a teapot, cups, glasses, a waste basket and binoculars, all in 3-D like the real thing, only in cardboard. Big in the goings-on is a whole set of luggage – all cardboard – of all sizes. Some pieces are stacked together, and some are individual. This luggage gets moved in an out a lot.
When kids built a fort (for example), what often follows is a kind of improvisational theater. The kids make up a story and action.
Cardboard Theater is rooted in improvisational theater – its ideas and players of the ComedyCity troupe that performs on the same stage. Big difference: “Subaverage Explorers” is an original, scripted play with a beginning-to-end story and characters.
The story is an oceanographer has hired the sub for an exploration to find the lost city of Atlantis. There are catches. The sub’s crew is only two, one being a bungler and the other, temporarily, somebody from the audience+++. Also, the captain’s fussy wife is along, treating the voyage as a cruise. Also, there are two stowaways of a sort, one connected with the oceanographer, the other connected to the bungler. Eventually, two British spies show up; they walk in an exaggerated big-step way a la Monty Python.
The script is a gimmick in its creation. Mike Eserkaln, who directs, and Matt Worzala took turns writing alternating pages a day. The result is just about anything goes for a gag – visual, verbal or cerebral. There are plays on words and words on play – a spirited atmosphere of clean funmaking.
The cast members throw themselves into their roles. They’re clearly accustomed to performing over-the-top comedy. Kimberly Norman is the worrisome oceanographer, Dr. Swansong, trying to locate the mythical place. Kenneth Goltz is the exasperated captain who really lights a fuse with the oceanographer to start Act II. Scott Roemaat is the baffled/baffling crewman, Taffy. Eric Hasenjager is a hotshot stowaway/guest of Taffy. Cassidy Renard is a know-all stowaway/assistant to Dr. Swansong. Jessica Blavat is the captain’s hoity-toity, demanding wife. Joseph Prestley and Conrad Kamschulte are the oh-so-British British spies.
Some bits are priceless. Roemaat is a big guy – BIG. There’s a scene that includes dinner rolls, and suddenly Roemaat/Taffy begins inhaling dinner rolls like a Hoover. At the climax is an underwater scene with a bunch of characters going through action/fighting in slo-mo, like they are under water. This is hilarious.
Some scenes – three characters in the brig and the captain and his wife on deck – are convoluted talky. Mostly, the show is plainly and simply a goofy comedy blast that is loaded with inane and clever stuff with cardboard creations by Maggie Dernehl.
Coming out of the gate, Cardboard Theater has a splendid idea that looks like the company can get plenty of mileage from.
+++ The audience member Friday for the role of Alvarez happened to be Mike Austin, the retired WFRV-TV agricultural expert, WTAQ Radio personality and general farmers’ friend. It’s a joke role, though Austin ad-libbed in-character reactions. After a few minutes on stage, the character leaves but continues to be part of subtle jokes that bubble through the script. It happens that Mike Austin is known for puns. At intermission Friday, he told me another one about his performance: “Mike Austin walked on stage looking for a sub sandwich.”
Creative: Playwrights – Mike Eserkaln, Matt Worzala; director – Mike Eserkaln; cardboard creations and stage manager – Maggie Dernehl; music – Kevin MacLeod
Dr. Pamela Swansong – Kimberly Norman
Capt. Joseph Flint – Kenneth Goltz
Donald “Taffy” Watson – Scott “Salt Water” Roemaat
Cody Turner, esq. – Eric Hasenjager
Cassidy Renard – Julia Worzala
Eunice Flint – Jessica Blavat
Nelson – Joseph Prestley
Harris – Conrad Kamschulte
Alvarez – audience member
Running time: Two hours
Remaining performances: 7 p.m. June 1, 7, 8
THE VENUE: The Green Room Lounge is located at 365 Main Ave. The building is part of a historic district in De Pere. The performance area for ComedyCity and this production is in the north part of the address. The space has an urban loft feel – a bare brick wall to the east, greenish painted wall to the west, a rough-wood wall to the south with panels angled at 45 degrees, and with exposed ventilation pipes and open wood ceiling above. Seating on chairs – stand-alone or at tables (like sturdy barrel bottoms) – is flexible and for approximately 60 for “Subaverage Explorers.” The stage is raised a foot or so and tidily placed in the southeast corner.
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