Every writer I know has at least dallied, with varying success, with one or more writing groups. Some provide feedback ranging from hyper-optimistic cheerleading to cut-throat envy-induced sabotage, some are mere excuses to have real deadlines and some devolve into social clubs where time is spent talking about the work you're not doing or philosophizing about "process."
Studio Players' latest production takes the colorful antics of one writing group to a new level in Improbable Fiction, an entertaining, feel-good comedy by Alan Ayckbourn.
The premise of the play makes me wonder whether Ayckbourn wrote it as a kind of humorous professional catharsis for all the half-finished, not-quite-begun, mediocre stories writers are trying to tell. The quirky hodgepodge of characters in the play's writing group includes an overly prolific, unpublished novelist writing thrillers (Stephanie Wyatt), an aspiring historical romance writer (Shea Baker), a children's book author who hasn't technically written one word (Sharon Sikorski), a grumpy musical theater composer (Graeme Hart), and a vocabulary-challenged, paranoid conspiracy theorist who writes science "facts" (Alex Maddox). They are all terrible writers. In fact, the best writer among them is the play's protagonist, Arnold (Brett Ervin), who writes instruction manuals, another funny jab at the writing profession.
The first act of the play introduces the audience to the writing characters as they participate in their monthly group meeting. It's light-hearted and humorous and includes plenty of deprecating jokes against the culture of writers, particularly the fact that most everyone's problem with their writing is that they are not actually doing it. The meeting concludes with Arnold suggesting that they all collaborate on a project as a kind of exercise to get them unstuck.
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And, boom, the second act is just that: a ludicrous, nonsensical, sidesplitting mashup of everyone's stories, which mysteriously come to life and revolve around the mystified Arnold.
As director Bob Singleton suggested in the curtain speech on Thursday's opening night, this is not the kind of show you need your thinking cap to understand. In fact, it's best if you remove it and just enjoy the ride, the highlight of which is the cast's goofy panache in their portrayal of badly written stories.
Sikorski and Wyatt display a remarkable knack for physical comedy and timing in the "sci-fi" scenes, and Wyatt gained further laughs in the 1930s detective thriller scenes as the sidekick detective in love with her boss. Maddox is enjoyable both as the paranoid sci-fi writer who constantly misuses words. Baker and Sikorski have terrific chemistry as rivals in the first act, and Baker's affected narration in the second half is delivered with tongue-in-cheek frivolity. Hart and Ervin turn in spirited performances, as does Bethany Finely as Ilsa, a variety of other characters, and perhaps most hilariously, Doblin the Goblin.
The audience's main reward is vicariously experiencing the silly fun that the actors are having on stage, underscoring the "play" aspect of Studio Players name.
IF YOU GO
What: Studio Players' production of Alan Ayckbourn's play, directed by Bob Singleton
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 15-16, 22-23, 29-30; 2:30 p.m. Nov. 17, 24 and Dec. 1
Where: Studio Players' Carriage House Theatre, 154 W. Bell Ct.
Tickets: $21. Available at (859) 257-4929 or Studioplayers.org.