Camp “Lethal Games at the Excelsior Hotel”
OF FATHER, Wis. (WFRV) – After two years incarcerated due to COVID-19, the unique Cardboard Theater is back in action with a new fantasy-laden original play.
“Deadly Games at the Hotel Excelsior” had its joyous premiere Friday night at the ComedyCity Theater, where improv theater reigns and camp is king.
Cardboard theater fits one definition of camp: Adopting a teasing theatrical manner, especially to amuse others.
The cardboard part is just for beginners. The sets and accessories are made of cardboard.
A chessboard full of pieces? All cardboard.
A knife in the back? Cardboard.
A phone? Cardboard.
A serving plate with cheese and chocolates? All cardboard.
A wall with an “elevator” sliding door? Cardboard.
Five pistols, each a different type? All cardboard.
For “Deadly Games at the Hotel Excelsior”, the story? Not in cardboard but with links to improvisation, which is a kind of theater in cardboard. It’s funny, but it doesn’t last forever…unless someone writes a script with a plot and characters with lines to follow. Someone like Jim Reilly.
Drawing on his improvisational roots of creating characters and situations on the spot, Jim Reilly created a tongue-in-cheek take on 1940s film noir with plot lines, sinister acts, innuendo and deadly acts, but with a light touch. The plot is just another way to get to the next joke (no swearing among them) or dispatch stereotypical Cold War characters.
This is France, after the Second World War. The Excelsior Hotel, which has seen better days, is a gathering place for Jim Reilly’s sly typography. Everyone has an accent:
+ The eager-to-please receptionist, Frenchie (Ken Goltz), always with her outstretched hand selling information.
+ A mysterious resident, Lloyd Sidwell (Jerah Doxtater), who, on the surface, is preparing an improvement plan for the hotel. But it is a facade.
+ Ivan (Gary Radke), the “employee” of Lloyd Sidwell with a Russian accent whose main job is to follow the next one:
+ Gunter (Rob Czypinski), the uniformed elevator operator with a brusque demeanor, German accent, and all sorts of distress signals.
+ A brash British officer, The Major (Will Knaapen), with an all-knowing ego.
+ His aptly named(?) wife, Lady Melbourne (Maggie Monte), with an upper crust loft to her speech.
+ The Weasel (Logan Madson), kinda nervous and sweaty – think Peter Lorre – with a mysterious package.
+ A medium, Madame Zolar (Terry Minor), who evokes a seance and another level of mystery and cheerfulness. The standing joke is that a clap of thunder accompanies every mention of his name “Zolar” = Ka-boom!
+ And, the catalyst character, Al Smith (Jon Bruinooge), a worn-out, tough-talking, language-destroying American detective, on a mission to figure out why his partner was killed (or the way he puts it, “kilt” ) by extorting information from everyone.
It’s a goofy brew with jokes galore.
Director Mike Eserkaln knows how to inspire and refine the fun. Its experienced cast knows how to focus on playfulness.
Maggie Dernehl’s cardboard creations speak of imagination and hours of patience with her special props and sets which, after all, are part of the Cardboard Theater’s raison d’être.
The story that seems to hang on a string is gossipy, but it’s improvisational speech that creates another joke, another pun, another comedic situation, and, of course, more laughter from the audience.
And the best thing is that all that imagination and performance joy comes from here. Right here.
Operating time: One hour, 15 minutes
Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. April 2; 2:00 p.m. April 3; 7:30 p.m. April 8-9
Creative: Playwright – Jim Reilly; director and technician – Mike Eserkaln; creations and manufacture in cardboard – Maggie Dernehl
Cast (in order of appearance):
French – Ken Goltz
Lloyd Sidwell – Jerah Doxtater
Günter – Rob Czypinski
Ivan – Gary Radke
Madame Zolar (Ka-boom!) – Terry Minor
The Major – Will Knaapen
The Weasel – Logan Madson
Al Smith – Jon Bruinooge
Lady Melbourne – Maggie Monte
THE PLACE: ComedyCity Theater (the former Green Room Lounge) is located at 365 Main Ave. in downtown De Pere. The building is part of a historic district of De Pere. The performance area for ComedyCity and this show is in the northern part of the address. The space has an urban loft feel – a bare brick wall to the east, a greenish painted wall to the west, a raw wood wall to the south with 45 degree angled panels, exposed vent pipes and an open wooden ceiling above. Seating on chairs – freestanding or on tables (like sturdy barrel bottoms) – is flexible and for around £60 for ‘Lethal Games at the Excelsior Hotel’. The stage is raised about a foot and carefully placed in the southeast corner.