Oconomowoc End Times Singalong

Photo by Christal Wagner Photography

by Jeff Grygny

We sign the roster and get our name tags, receive sheet music for “99 Luftballons” —in the original German—and are sorted into our sections: soprano, alto, tenor, et cetera. The room is the archetypal church basement of millions of meetings: bare walls, fluorescent lights, gray metal folding chairs, and that distinctive pebbly floor that looks like it was made to withstand a nuclear blast. “NO FUN” proclaims a large flip chart in magic marker. It could be the setting for any community theater, bible study group, or AA meeting, or but it’s a rehearsal for the Oconomowoc a cappella group; a band of small town citizens who just want to sing, but who will find themselves helpless as their rehearsal devolves into a maelstrom of dysfunction and madness. How could anything good happen in this stark denatured room?

It’s an original production by the risk-inclined The Constructivists, with the complete title A Cappocalypse! Or. . . Oconowocappella’s A Cappella Practice has Been Canceled. This satirical farce was created by the company under the guidance of Andrew Hobgood of Chicago’s New Colony and Actor/Playwright Joe Lino. Over the course of a year, the players created characters with full back stories, relationships, and histories going back generations to create a fleshed-out fictional universe of small town life, where everyone knows everyone. The result is sort of like a hologram: every part contains the whole thing. And so it’s also a cartoonish parody of 21st Century America.

We see a spectrum of mashed-up stereotypes: the abusive micromanaging director from the “loudest voice” school of management; the masochistic follower with short-term memory loss; the buttoned-up nerd; the brash social influencer; the crunchy stoner; the survivalist nutjob. In all the bickering about rules of order and shallowly simmering grudges, “99 Luftballons” is all but forgotten. It’s a nightmare of small group dysfunction, and, in a cringy sort of way, often very funny.

 Under Jaimelyn Gray’s skillful direction, the company is committed and energetic. The action moves along propulsively, and the satire’s sharp teeth find many a tender spot—though they don’t bite too hard. The actors play with great confidence in their concocted world.  Matthew Scales and Andrea Ewald as the Director and “Assistant to the Assistant,” seem locked in a little Beckett play with notes of The Office. Anya Palmer’s social media influencer storms into the rehearsal with cell phone blazing, seemingly in her own little show.

Kellie Wambold gives her conspiracy theorist a feverish intensity, like Peanuts’ Lucy on steroids, creating her own cult in the course of the play. When you live in a world of dirty little secrets, paranoia actually seems sensible, and fearful people will grasp at almost anything that offers meaning. Clayton Mortl’s understated comic timing is the show’s secret spice. And in the role of the local big fish, whose claim to fame is that he appeared on America’s Got Talent, co-playwright Joe Lino’s smile conceals a Machiavellian will to power.

As the rehearsal convulses into Lord of the Flies territory, We’re left contemplating how the world got into it’s current state. The Roman Empire could blame lead in the pipes for its fall. What can we point to? Toxic masculinity? “Wokeism?” The internet? We can yell about them all, but one thing is clear: We’ve got to stop meeting in that church basement.

Heute zieh ich meine Runden
Seh die Welt in Truemmern liegen
Hab’ nen Luftballon gefunden
Denk’ an Dich und lass’ ihn fliegen

The Constructivists present

A Cappelocalypse! Or, Oconowocappella’s A Capella Practice has Been Canceled

Created by Andrew Hobgood and Joe Lino

playing through April 6


or call 414.858.6874