The world of professional wrestling is an absurd one, and the world of women’s professional wrestling is even more absurd.
So if you are going perform a play about women’s professional wrestling, it’s a good idea to determine whether the characters are going to be real people or caricatures.
That’s one of the problems afflicting "Cementville," the dark comedy by Jane Martin that opened at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts over the weekend and runs again Thursday, March 6 though Sunday, March 9.
The play takes place in a seedy locker room in Cementville, Tenn., with a bunch of has-been and never-will-be lady wrestlers, along with assorted other characters (in the truest sense of the word).
The ladies have problems. Boy, do they have problems. Some of them haven’t been paid. Some are injured and have doubts about going on. Some act like the whole thing like is a real athletic competition, much to the derision of the other wrestlers. One is so fat she can’t even help arrange the locker room.
There are lesbians, oversexed tarts, a naive young girl subject to almost any offer, jealous ladies and a pair of sex bomb sisters dressed in red, white and blue. There are adults and teenagers and crazy people and people who are on a one-way highway to crazy.
The production was directed by Michael Cotey, who directed a memorable production of "Cartoon" for Youngblood Theatre in 2012. In that production, Cotey – one of the hottest and most respected young directors around – proved that he has more than a nodding acquaintance with wild and crazy characters.
In this one, though, Cotey doesn’t have as much to work with.
The first problem he has is the script. It’s confusing whether we are supposed to take these people seriously or whether we should look at them only as broadly drawn actors in some kind of farce.
If they are supposed to be real people, then we need better reasons to care about them. They seem almost too much of a stereotype. If they are part of a farce, then they need to be broader in their portrayals, and they need to react to each other and to their circumstances with more clarity. Subtlety is not part of a farce.
The second problem Cotey has is typically unavoidable in a college production with 14 roles. College actors are still feeling their way through being on a stage in front of a live audience, and some are further along than others. That’s what you see in this production. Some of the actors are truly invested in their roles, have grasped the intricacies of finding a place for a character and stick to it. Too many actors in the cast, however, need seasoning, and that only comes with time.
The play has a number of funny moments, but comedy in a play requires two things: good timing and making sure the funny lines get some attention. There were simply too many pauses between lines, and some of the humor lines were just thrown away.
"Cementville" leaves something to be desired, but it’s worth the price to see some of the young people who will eventually graduate into the lively theater scene in Milwaukee.
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