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Theater Review: The Midwest Trilogy

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Posted March 23, 2012 | © Photo courtesy of Second Thought Theater

Welcome to the hotel convention center in Dubuque, Iowa.Grab a drink, stick on a nametag, and find a seat. Our meeting will begin momentarily.

 

While working in corporate sales and travelling heavily throughout the Midwest, playwright Eric Steele found himself in a miserable time of isolation during which he documented his thoughts, observations, and ideas.Those efforts have now been parlayed into two short films along with a one-man, one-act play that gently takes viewers along for an insightful examination of the human spirit when faced with raw self introspection.

 

In a multi-media production dubbed “a night of theater and film,” Second Thought Theatre and Aviation Cinemas (Texas Theatre) now present Steele’s show The Midwest Trilogy, which centers around these three separate but linked stories set in the heartland of Corporate America.Upon entering the theater, audience members find themselves at a “sales mastery workshop” complete with Styrofoam coffee cups, a film projector in the middle of the room, worn ‘hotel’ carpet, and dingy vinyl stackable chairs (some with cushion stuffing coming out at the corners).The initial task at hand is to watch two “instructional videos.”

 

Cork's Cattlebaron

 

Brady (Robert Longstreet) is talking incessantly and won’t shut up.He and his young business protege Jon (Frank Mosley) are having dinner at a steak restaurant while on the road in Omaha, but Brady’s taking a call via his Bluetooth and repeatedly commenting on the derriere of the waitress (Alicia Anthony) all while his wedding band flashes back and forth as he continues to talk and gesture. Unable to get a word in with his skeezy boss for practically the first half of the film, the covertly expressive Jon communicates an impressive wealth of non verbal messages to us and we feel terribly empathetic.Finally and abruptly he speaks, delivering some unexpected news that changes everything.

 

Topeka

 

Layne Edelman (Hunter Wood), a young Jewish businessman from New York, is in Topeka for one night to deliver a speech. Wishing he was anywhere but that city, Layne stops for coffee at a local diner and finds himself the subject of an unpleasant ‘stare down’ by the other patrons that’s akin to something you might experience on the first day in the junior high school cafeteria. Piecing together bits of bigoted conversations around him, Layne opens his laptop at the table before heading to the restroom to freshen up.Upon returning, he finds that his laptop as well as his briefcase and phone are gone. Despite the incredibly small space, no one admits to having seen anything.We feel angry and defensive along with Layne as his feelings of helplessness cause him to lash out against those people who don’t seem to be acting with the honesty and common decency that he expects them to.

 

Bob Birdnow’s Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self

 

After the two films, Bob Birdnow (Barry Nash) takes the stage as a reluctant motivational speaker giving what is “not meant to be a motivational speech or fire ‘em up talk.”Detouring off on a number of topics such as cancer, compassion, the placebo effect, following your gut instincts, and the power of the olfactory sense, the Birdnow character seems nervous and unfocused, walking through the audience to get sips of water at the back table and repeatedly checking his time allowance with our unseen host Jerry (ol’ “Jer”).It is excruciatingly awkward; and with the house lights up at times, the feelings seem completely exposed.We assume the rather soft-spoken Bob to be a weak-ish man until we hear this former pilot’s tragic but triumphant story that all began on a trip to Colorado when he realized “somethin’ ain’t right on the plane.”

 

Returning to Birdnow’s point of pain to relate a story of determination and redemption, Nash was enthralling as he expressed such primitive emotion, often with a quivering bottom lip.After hearing his story of finding his "greater self", we feel proud of Bob Birdnow (and after reading Barry Nash’s blog about the process of performing this role, we feel extremely proud of him too.)By the end of the night, our own daily struggles appeared much lighter and seemed to drift away.

 

Uplifting and thought provoking, motivational and therapeutic, The Midwest Trilogy is a strong but easy-to-swallow antidepressant.

 

Now, does anyone have any questions?

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