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 happens.
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.