When The Bar Is The Stage: Youngblood's SAVAGE IN LIMBO

Jul. 14, 2009
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I had been looking forward to Youngblood’s Savage In Limbo since I first heard of the company back in June--partially because the playwright was John Patrick Shanley (who wrote Doubt) but mostly because it was a play set in a bar that was going to be performed in a bar. (The Landmark to be precise.) Maybe it’s all that Cheers I watched growing-up in the ‘80’s, but I love a classy, old bar. The look and feel of the place . . . the faded old chairs, the metal ceiling, the carved wood. Though it doesn't specifically fit the bill, having been built in 1927, (and renovated quite a bit since then, presumably) the Landmark has that kind of feel to it . . . nothing too modern or upscale looking . . . we’re not on Water Street, we’re on the east side having a beer. . . I like the feel of that.

I am no stranger to going to bars to see dramatic performances. I’ve seen (and performed) spoken word and performance poetry at a number of places all over town. As many poetic monologues as I’ve seen in various bars, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen a feature-length full-cast play performed in a bar. True, there is the Alchemist Theatre and Lounge, but the two are connected--not the same space and the bar space itself doesn’t get used for performances.

I guess the closest I’d ever really come to seeing a show at a bar was at the Off-Broadway Theatre for last years Milwaukee Sketch and Improv Festival. The act DIRTY WATER brought their own bar to the stage to perform. The premise is this: you’ve got a group of guys from Chicago who are pretending to be a group of guys from Boston. They hang out, drink and have an improvised comic conversation . . . a fun show all in all. You can focus in on the conversation, let the rest of the theatre fade-out and have the distinct impression that the Off-Broadway IS a bar. A distinctly interesting experience. As I understand it, Dirty Water will be back for next month’s Milwaukee Comedy Festival.


With respect to Savage In Limbo, the natural feel of the Landmark’s side bar adds a whole different level of naturalism to things. Here’s a place where I’ve had drinks before . . .quite often in college. And here they are--two guys and three women hanging out in the Landmark, talking in New York accents as the Landmark’s Side Bar plays the role of a mid-‘80’s dive bar in the Bronx called Scales. And John Patrick Shanley’s characters are just a bit exaggerated . . . just a bit strange and larger than life . . . and it occurs to me that even  that feels a bit natural because much of the time I’ve spent in bars over the years has been with poets and artists . . . who are all kind of dramatic and larger than life to begin with.

And then there’s the fact that the cast features these three attractive, young women right out of the BFA program at UWM . . . probably in their early twenties playing women in their early thirties. It didn’t occur to me until hours after seeing the play that the reason the ten-year age discrepancy didn’t seem weird to me was not because of costuming (which is really good--very mid-'80's, but nothing that specifically makes them look ten years older than they are.) Nor is it because of make-up effects (in a venue as small as the Landmark, artificially aging people isn't going to work.)

The reason these women (who are probably all in their early twenties) don't look out of place as women in their early thirties is because my wife is 31 and SHE looks like a beautiful, young actress in her early twenties. (And, well, I met her at a bar so I guess it kinda makes sense.) The discrepency in age shouldn't really be a problem for most people . . .even if they AREN'T married to people who look ten years younger than they actually are. The acting is really good and . . . a full review of the play will appear in the July 23rd Shepherd-Express.


SAVAGE IN LIMBO appears at the Landmark again tonight running Monday and Wednesday perfromances through July 28th.


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