Hitting below the belt

“Below the Belt” is playing for one more weekend. Go see it.Forget your plans, forget the World Series. Go see this show.

I will admit, when I walked into Tribe Theatre’s ghetto-fabuloushodgepodge space, I was expecting the worst. The Chinatown artgallery/theatre space/open mic stage gives you the impression, onarrival, of an amateur expedition into the world of the arts. Butit must be remembered that amateur does not always mean “bad.” Itproperly means “inexperienced.” And talent can grasp an audienceregardless of experience.

Cued by the set and the d�cor, I was preparing for aboring 90 minutes. Then the impossibly absurd Hanrahan came onstageand began to type. One letter at a time. Slowly. After every letterhe would shout, “That’s it! Brilliant!” On the second word or so,he hit a key he did not like, threw the entire page away infrustration, and began again.

Played with deadpan accuracy by Scott Skinner, Hanrahan set thepace of the show, and defined the absurd reality of it. We couldfully see this absurdity in contrast when the control from the”real” world entered. Ian Hanley’s Dobbit artfully shepherded theaudience on our journey through understanding this scary corporateworld of “The Compound.”

Out in the desert, these two corporate drones live out theirwork, checking. They check the work of other workers they neversee, are never allowed to leave and are not even sure if they areprisoners or not.

Is this an allegory of the corporate world? Is it an example ofworkaholics to the extreme? Or is it just an absurd reality withpassing relations to modern workers? In the end, it can be all ornone of these, and what the actors are left with is a clever, wittyscript.

The one-liners that got real belly laughs from the audience aretoo numerous to count. A couple of my favorites:

“This reminds me of home. The terror you can’t quite see.”

“I had all the checkers in stripes!”

“You’ll do fine. Just…don’t be yourself.”

In addition to the wealth of humor in the script, power politicsplayed a central role, with the checkers’ boss, Merkin played byRobert Bonwell Parker. Merkin played his two employees off of oneanother constantly and had some of the funniest lines in the play.Knowing this, unfortunately, he would try too hard for a laugh onoccasion. When he did not get in the way of the script, his simpledelivery made the audience howl with laughter.

The most talented actor was easily Ian Hanley, whose characterDobbit allowed him to play with all sorts of subtlety; facialexpressions and emotions unavailable to the other actors. He did sowith relish. This is an actor to keep an eye out for.

The director, Micah Sunflower Klatt, made an excellent choice ofscript for his second production at Tribe. He would do better toturn set design over to another, however; the cumbersome stagingwas creative enough to fulfill the many settings required, but wasfunctionally difficult. This could have been overcome if thedifficulties were acknowledged as comedic bits.

Merkin’s office was a few feet higher than the rest of thestage, which is a great choice, except for the fetal-position tucknecessary for all characters to exit or enter. If they had made ita character choice — that it was always difficult to enter orleave — it would have served the absurd world and the stage at thesame time.

This production suffered from inexperience; the lighting wasbad, the actors could be heard clunking around backstage, etc. Butthe pleasant surprise of seeing an amateurish production rise wellbeyond your expectations is a rare joy. Tribe Theatre does thisexcellently. Go see this show.

“Below the Belt”

Tribe Theatre, 403 N.W. Fifth Ave.


Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m.