By Bob Evans
A fresh voice in the KC Metro area, recent :University of Kansas graduate, Ben Schatzel offers his newest play “Dead Lines” that features an “art imitates life” scenario when two sketch comedy writers collaborate for a top TV comedy show.
The show at the Westport Coffee House for the 2018 KC Fringe Festival featured a cast of five actors who work their way though this piece. The play focuses on the two collaborative writers, two actors who act out the comedy ideas (on the opposite side of the stage) and a bar owner who bridges the gap and ties the two tandems together by appearing as a bartender and an actor.
According to the Fringe website: “Dead Lines is a comedy that tells the story of two sketch comedy show writers working together while exploring different aspects of their own relationship. As they collaborate, the stories that they come up with begin to be acted out by two actors in a separate acting space on the stage, giving us a glimpse of the world that the two writers create on a weekly basis. The imaginary world begins to meld with the real, escalating to conflict between the characters that inhabit both of those worlds.”
“Dead Lines” presents an interesting concept and the actors deliver good performances. Yet, the play needs some fine-tuning. The two writers do not have the chance to fully develop their characters and show how they continue to change. They are the focus of the play and the focus needs to remain on their relationship and its development. The two actors break the focus off the writers, and the layout of the staging takes the audience’s eyes off the writers while action occurs on the opposite side of the performance area. The writers’ relationship might show more change and depth during the actors interlude, but with eyes diverted to the actors, that developing relationship continues to be interrupted. Different staging would be beneficial. Probably a deeper performance space would keep eyes from being diverted and give the play a stronger grasp on audience attention.
The cast for “Dead Lines” is: Diane Decker as Briana Van Deusen, Logan Lance as Brent Custer, Clark (bar owner) as Manu Ajmani, Jordan Grant as Actor 1, and Mia Beckerman as Actor 2.
As Schatzel continues to work on “Dead Lines” any weaknesses will disappear. Re-staging and a bit more of a glimpse inside the two writers’ lives will give the story more strength. Some of the most comedic moments come from Clark and his delivery is great. Some more comedic dialogue and possible teasing jabs would help to show the developing relationship between them.
Tags: KC Fringe Festival, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment, Westport Coffee House, “Dead Lines”