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By Tad Simons
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By: | Posted: 01/27/2010
Dinner theater has never gotten much respect. Bad food + mediocre theater
tends to equal an unsatisfying experience, like brushing your teeth with baking
soda. But what if you upped the quality of the food, hired the best actors and
playwrights in town, set the whole event in a cool place, and kept the beer
flowing all night long?
If you did all that, then you'd have something—something like Thirst: The
Return, which revived itself Monday night at Joe's Garage and will do the same
(a little different each time) every Monday for the next nine weeks. Thirst has
been on hiatus for a couple of years, and its return is certainly welcome. New
work by local playwrights is as rare as it is interesting, and Joe's Garage
overlooking Loring Park is a great space for this forward-looking, freewheeling
form of experimental theater.
Don't let the word "experimental" throw you, though. On Monday
night, the five short plays presented were largely experiments in how often
people can be made to laugh. Here's how Thirst works: You pay $15 at the door
to get access to the upstairs dining area, where the performances take place.
Performances can break out anywhere, but are strategically staged so that
everyone can see. Each Monday, five short plays 10 to 15 minutes long are
presented. There are 12 playlets in all (so you can go back two or three times
and see new work), all the playlets were written specifically for the event by
select local playwrights, all are "world premieres," and all are
performed by equity actors, which means they are some of the best, most
experienced talent in town.
The list of playwrights involved is impressive: Trista Baldwin, Patrick
Coyle, Matt Dawson, Matthew Everett, Kim Hines, Cory Hinkle, Allison Moore, Tom
Poole, Joseph Scrimshaw, Craig Wright, Carason Kreitzer, and Matt Sciple. And
the actors involved are equally recognizable: Chris Carlson, Bob Davis, Charles
Fraser, Terry Hempleman, Jim Lichtesteidl, Tracy Maloney, Carolyn Pool, Phyllis
Wright—and, as they say, many more (28 in all). How can Thirst get all these
people to participate, you ask? Well, it's Monday night—the one night of the
week actors usually spend on the couch with the rest of us.
So at Thirst, what you've got is great writing, top-drawer talent, and an
endless supply of Surly beer, the event's offical sponsor, which weaves in a
couple of humorous plugs of its own. On Monday, the highlights were Tom Poole's
Hand Sell, a hilarious bit about an aspiring writer in the digital era who is doing
a national book tour with his agent—by bicycle; Terry Hempleman's performance
in Debate, by Cory Hinkle, a meditation
on the American Dream told by a man who is trying to justify hitting a
protester on his way into Joe's; and Allison Moore's The Special, about the increasingly tense
relationship between a waitress and a regular patron who insists on ordering
the exact same thing every night. Origami, by Craig Wright, and The
Couple, by Trista Baldwin, rounded out the evening.
On Monday, the pace of the evening was just right. A play breaks out, lasts 15 minutes or so, then there's five or 10 minutes to chat, then another
one starts up, and so on. The setup works much better than you'd imagine, and
before you know it, it's over—no pain involved. Most of the plays are humorous,
and don't worry, there isn't much uncomfortable audience interaction—unless you
want it to happen, in which case you're free to open your mouth and see what
All in all, Thirst offers a refreshing evening of easily digested
theatrical entertainment. It's dinner theater done right. With beer.
Thirst runs every Monday night through March 29, 7:30 p.m., at Joe's
Garage, 1610 Harmon Place, Mpls., 612-904-1163.
Note: The photo above was taken during the last round of Thirst. Pictured: Kate Eifrig, Phil Callen, Phil Kilbourne. The playlet was Tom Poole's "What The F--k??!" Photo credit: Scott Pakudaitis.
Tad Simons is a contributing editor for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine's arts and entertainmenet section. See bio
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