We all have “work friends” and “real friends,” and I’m sure we’ve all had social gatherings with our work peers rife with awkwardness as everyone adjusts to seeing people outside of the work environment. It can be odd, like seeing your high school English teacher at Target, realizing people have a life outside and apart from how you know them. Most of these meldings of different worlds go off without a hitch, but what if they result in violence and murder? Now that is a party, and that is what happens in MadLab’s production of Pete Bakely’s Skillet Tag, a dark comedy with slight echoes of Killing Zoe and Heathers with some Keystone Cops thrown in for good measure.
Skillet Tag is about Jeff (Jason Sudy, in a goofy but unabashedly confident performance), an obnoxious boss at a greeting card company who gathers a group of people from work into his home for a game of tag involving skillets. There is Katie (Kathryn Miller), the new company lawyer; Neal (Chad Hewitt), the handsome and cocky office jerk; Greg (Casey May), the introverted IT guy; Jennifer (Melissa Bair), the office lush who can’t be fired; and Becky (Colleen Dunne), Jeff’s frazzled assistant. What appears to be a contrived team building exercise is actually an excuse for Jeff to fire someone, and it isn’t long before tensions erupt. Police are called (Lance Atkinson and Chelsea Jordan), but even they are dragged into the action as the body count rises and allegiances are made and broken.
Director Michelle Batt keeps the pace up and the tone light even when dealing with violence and murder; the brutality is cartoonish complete with sound effects and fake blood, and the audience has full permission to laugh at the antics of this rather unlikable group of people. Brendan Michna’s fine set is of Jeff’s living room complete with bar, leather furniture, and a fish on the wall; it’s sturdy enough for all the running around and faux fancy enough to fill us in on Jeff’s character (though Mr. Sudy needs no help at establishing his character in his Spandex wrestling suit and padded headgear).
The cast is uniformly good, but though there are notable standout performances by Melissa Bair and Colleen Dunne. Ms. Bair takes the part of the lush and doesn’t overplay it; she’s natural in a way that shows restraint and proves to make every scene she is in funnier than it would be otherwise. Ms. Dunne is a bit too quick to respond as the play begins, but she finds her stride when her character goes off the deep end, fearlessly pouncing, stripping, and bludgeoning when the moment calls for it, returning to a “Did I do that?” kind of expression throughout that is delightfully twisted.
Skillet Tag is irreverent and delightfully naughty; this isn’t the play for your conservative grandparents used to the umpteenth production of a Rodgers and Hammerstein show – this is for the disillusioned twenty to forty-somethings working office jobs on the verge of going postal. This is theatre for people who don’t like traditional theatre, and it’s daring in a way that other companies would avoid for fear of offending someone. And at around seventy-five minutes, Skillet Tag is just the right length for the wacky story it has to tell.
*** out of ****
Skillet Tag continues through to October 31st in the MadLab Theatre located at 227 North Third Street in downtown Columbus, and more information can be found at http://madlab.net/skillet-tag.html