On An Average Day
Intimate and interesting
|Spartan Theatre presents|
|On An Average Day|
Review by Lauren Whalen
Since 2012, Spartan Theatre Company has specialized in productions with minimal elements and maximum effect. Their latest, On An Average Day, aligns with their goals: it’s set in a single room, with only two characters and clocks in under two hours including intermission. On An Average Day lags a bit in the beginning, but provides an emotional gut-punch as a relationship between two brothers is stripped bare, layer by layer, to reveal the ugly beauty that lies beneath. Director Ray Frewen has assembled a strong cast and excellent production team that make the most out of a largely bare space and create a rich, promising landscape.
The play begins with young drifter Bob (Andrew Monson), trembling and pounding back Pabst Blue Ribbon at his kitchen table. In walks Bob’s brother Jack (Patrick Belics), toting a paper sandwich bag and looking, stunned, at the mess surrounding his sibling. Turns out Bob and Jack haven’t spoken in years and lead very different lives. Jack is clean cut, neatly groomed and rational (at least on the surface), whereas Bob is scruffy, prone to yelling fits and on trial for attempted murder. As the brothers interact, bonding and squabbling over beers and whisky procured from Bob’s odorous refrigerator, secrets are revealed and past and present sins confessed. What lies in the paper bag? What lies beneath Jack’s quiet surface? And how has their late father shaped them into the dysfunctional men they now are?
Two-character dramas are difficult to write, act and direct, and On An Average Day mostly succeeds on all fronts. John Kolvenbach’s script starts with excess dialogue and exposition, but soon evolves into a tight, tense character study with darkly comedic moments. True to Spartan’s mission, director Frewen keeps the staging simple with light but sure touches, and a bit of stage combat courtesy of fight director Jeff Newman is truly impressive. No set designer is credited, but the musty, messy kitchen in which the entire play is set looks so vivid and real that I could practically smell Bob’s redolent fridge. Joseph A. Burke’s lighting amplifies some of the play’s more poignant beats in a lovely, subtle way and sound designer Tim Bickel’s choices are mostly on point (though I question the song used during curtain call).
Both actors do an admirable job of crafting the brothers’ difficult, multilayered relationship in a relatively short time span. Monson’s Bob is both gritty and spectacular: at times his shouting is a bit excessive, but he’s genuine and believable as an unformed adult and problem child who never stood a chance. Belics, Spartan’s co-founder and artistic director, is not quite as strong. Though he presents an excellent stoicism that slowly and painfully unravels, Belics often stammered or stumbled over his lines. I wasn’t sure if this was a character choice or an actor’s lack of preparation, but either way this habit would briefly take me out of an otherwise absorbing moment.
On An Average Day is my first experience with Spartan Theatre Company, and I’m eager to go back for more. This stripped-down production has its shortcomings, but overall is an excellent example of accomplishing a great deal with very little. In under two hours, Spartan Theatre creates an intimate, interesting portrait of the ties that bind, and what happens when these ties are loosened almost – but not quite – beyond recognition.
On an Average Day continues through April 12th at Collaboraction’s Pentagon Stage, 1579 N. Milwaukee, 3rd Floor (map), with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm, with additional 3pm matinee on Saturday, April 4. Tickets are $15-$20 (students $10), and are available online through BrownPaperTickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at SpartanTheatre.org. (Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes, includes an intermission)
behind the scenes
Ray Frewen (director), Alyson Kulin (stage manager), Joseph A. Burke (lighting design), Tim Bickel (sound design, board operator), Sierra Naomi Nibbe (costume design), Jeff Newman (fight director), Amanda de la Guardia (photos)