By Manning Harris
The Alliance Theatre’s new comedy “Spoon Lake Blues,” by Josh Tobiessen, is virtually irresistible. It’s playing at the Hertz Stage through April 24; do your funny bone and your spirit a big favor and don’t miss it. Mr. Tobiessen was a finalist in the theatre’s Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition a few years ago; he didn’t place first, but the Alliance’s Artistic Director Susan Booth had the good sense to ask him to stay in touch and keep sending his work.
He did, and presto: We are treated here with a sparkling quintet of Alliance debuts—the playwright, of course, and four dynamic young actors. More about them in a moment.
There’s this small lake town in the mountains (we don’t know which mountains; it doesn’t matter) and two brothers—Denis (Luke Robertson) and Brady (Jimi Kocina), who live together in the old family cabin, built in 1947. The brothers are—how shall we say—rural. They’re individualists. And times being hard (this is 2011), they’ve started to rob neighboring houses, some of which are owned by wealthy “summer people.” One is these is Caitlin (Lakisha Michelle May), a beautiful African-American young woman. Actually, her father owns the house. Caitlin is presently attending Harvard.
Brady attended a local community college briefly; Denis has done time, briefly. The cabin they inhabit must be seen to be believed. Special kudos go to Marion Williams for set design (and set decoration, I assume). There are fishing rods on the wall; there are doors that fall down when pushed. All this quaintness fascinates Caitlin, who drops by for a visit, after the boys have just robbed her house. She doesn’t know that. But Brady is charmed by her.
Denis is romantically involved with the local sheriff, Abigail (Veronika Duerr), who turns a blind eye to the brothers’ misadventures as she drops by at will to demand “recreation” with Denis. Oh, yes, the bill collectors are at the door, and the brothers are in danger of losing their house, which Denis deems totally unacceptable. They need money, now. Caitlin (or her family) has money. The scene is set—for you to see this play, which is directed, seamlessly, by Davis McCallum.
I really cannot say too much about this cast, or for that matter, the rollicking high spirits of the play. It is off-the-wall wacky and irreverent, yet still manages to touch the heart. At moments its comic spirit resembles the very best moments of “I Love Lucy” or “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” though not the same ambience, of course. I hope it’s clear that I mean this as high praise. In slightly over 90 minutes you are taken on a roller coaster ride of hilarity and humanity, deftly concocted by the playwright.
And in this cast, it must be said that Jimi Kocina is first among equals. Ms. Duerr, Ms. May, and Mr. Robertson are all superb, but Mr. Kocina has a huge reserve of the theatre’s rarest gift, a genuine comedy sense. Watch him lope across the stage, with an easy, unaffected, loopy sense of joy that cannot be taught and is completely infectious. I’ve enjoyed his performances before, but with his Alliance debut, he’s serving notice that he is a major talent. I’d keep an eye on him.
I would also get tickets to “Spoon Lake Blues”–pronto. Buy tickets and get more info at www.alliancetheatre.org.