Things are not always as they seem. Despite how mundane a situation may appear, there is always a swirling sea of peculiarities just beneath the surface waiting to throw a wrench in an otherwise placid life.
And it's that underlying absurdity that Stella(r) Productions evokes in their show A Most Happy Stella, a collection of sketches and a mini-musical of classic (mostly) American plays, playing at WaterTower Theatre's Out of the Loop Fringe Festival.
The ensemble cast includes J. Stephen Brantley, DeAnna Gonzales, Zane Harris, Cara Statham Serber, Travis Stuebing and Joleen Wilkinson.
The sketches are varied in subject, moving from a man talking with his family about coming out of the closet in A Long Gay's Journey Into Night, to a young couple trying to make a sex tape in Porn Yesterday, to a game night gone wrong in Whose Scared of Virginia's Woof.
The connective tissue of the scenes is clear in their titles; the plays on words, quibbling over semantics, dry and witty banter with a tinge of absurdism. A Most Happy Stella is an uncanny reflection of life where something chaotic, yet fun, has happened. Everything is just slightly askew.
Topping off the performance is the title sequence, which is simply a short musical version of A Streetcar Named Desire. And like the previous sketches, it's like an alternate universe, a simulacrum of reality, slightly distorted in the reflection. But of course, more fun.
Providing the soundtrack for this madcap collection of conundrums is the Plus One Jazz Group led by pianist/composer Rebecca Cordes with drummer John Allnut, bassist Jeffry Eckels and trumpeter Jason Webb. Along with the final musical number the group also provides backing for a several musical interstitials, including a sultry version of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" performed by Serber.
The madman behind the whole project is playwright/lyricist David Parr. Clearly a strong wit, it's Parr's unique perspective on the world that gives this show its life. He envisions a world devoid of deeper meanings and instead sees an endless parade of absurdities by which humanity spends its time jumping from one to the next like frogs on lily pads. And helping Parr bring the vision to the stage is director and constant collaborator Eric Amburg, who does a lot with a little in terms of props and staging. The presentation simple yet effective.
There are plenty of laughs to be had in A Most Happy Stella and that's ultimately what it's going for. The opening sketches are filler for the final number, but they're good filler. And the credit for that goes both to Parr's humorous take on life and the earnest performances of the excellent cast.
It's fun. And that seems to be what Parr is saying about life in general with this piece. There doesn't always have to be some grand reconciliation and earth shattering epiphany of purpose. Sometimes life just is. And that's kind of funny.
And so is this.
◊ To see a complete schedule of shows and venues, go here.
◊ WaterTower is streaming several shows and events at Out of the Loop. To watch them on our site, click the US Stream icon at the top of this page. It will open a separate tab. The streaming schedule is also included there.