Tag Archives: Jaimelyn Gray

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

Sexual Perversity in Cyberspace

Christal Wagner Photography

by Jeff Grygny

Have you ever longed for a place where you could be your real self, free of society’s rules and  definitions of who you’re supposed to be? Welcome to The Nether, Jennifer Haley’s amazing, frighteningly smart play (whose three-week run was sadly cut short by the pangolin plague). And while we might have all kinds of fantasies of freedom from rules, Haley digs into what exactly that might mean—in the process uncovering a whole worm’s nest of squirming quandaries involving our bodies, our identities, and our technology.

If there is a single word for this play, it has two syllables: the first is “mind” and the second rhymes with “luck.” Haley has written for the techno-creepy TV series Dark Mirror, and it’s evident, both in the story’s subject matter and in the efficient movement of character and narrative that consistently shows, but doesn’t tell, its themes. There are so many ideas here, you might have had the repeated sensation of your brain ballooning into space with each gobsmacking realization, right up to the surprisingly poignant final scene.

Director Jaimelyn Gray conducts a skilled cast in a tight, disciplined chamber piece, exquisitely paced and rich with contradictory emotions laid out for our delectation. Mr. Sims (nod to the online role-play game clearly intended), is the “host” of a very exclusive corner of ‘The Nether,” a sensory-immersive virtual world where you can appear as any avatar you can imagine. This place is a tidy reproduction of a Victorian manor, its “clients” strictly regulated to conform to the dress and manners of the time. It’s charming—but why are there so many children, and why are they so friendly and complaisant? And what is that bloody axe doing in the bedroom?

The plot unfolds like a procedural, shuttling between the Nether and an interrogation room of the Nether’s regulatory division. As an agent investigating Sims, Maya Danks is like a charged coiled wire; a dangerous and powerful foil for Sims, as played with righteous authority by Robert W.C. Kennedy. Their intellectual thrust-and-riposte provides much of the play’s electricity. Within the Nether, where Sims goes by the handle “Papa,” we meet one of his girls, a complicated entity called Iris, in a fearless, subtle performance by Rebekah Farr.

This chilling scenario plays out so many problems surrounding digital media, it could be the basis for a college course on the ethics of technology: game addiction, catfishing, porn, escapism, alienation, the dilemmas of regulating online behavior. Beyond that, what is identity anyway, if it can become unmoored from flesh? Reality in this indeterminate future world does not seem to be a very nice place; characters fleetingly express their nostalgia for trees, and there’s reference to the practice of  “fading:” hooking up your body to life support and vanishing entirely into virtual reality.

The Nether poses hard problems, but ultimately, like all good dystopian fiction, it asks us to think about the world we’re headed to. Is reality so unappealing that so many people are desperate to get away from it?

The Constructivists present

The Nether

by Jennifer Haley

Alas, this production is now closed