Following their unique brand of writing site-specific plays, for their 5th season OnSite revisits its very first production, set at Epiphany Lanes (hosted by the Epiphany of our Lord parish in the little ol' neighborhood of Clifton Heights). As you walk in, you're handed a one-sheet program designed to look like a bowling scorecard, and are immediately drawn into a neon-colored world that in many ways remains stuck in the fifties. The soundtrack, featuring old friends like "The Locomotion", Breaking Up is Hard to Do" and "The Wanderer", as well as the decor - comprised of eight little lanes, a Budweiser clock and teal plastic seating - remind you of a time when life was simpler. The alley bar is wide open, and the promise of good clean fun hangs in the air.
The evening is made up of drinking, bowling and three short plays.
In the first, “JustBowl” (penned by Dan Rubin), Donna Weinsting appears as Bobbie D. Putnam. She’s giving us, the audience, a lecture on the social aspects of bowling. Bemoaning the world of Facebook and Twitter, Ms. Putnam warns that those little "snippets of interaction" rob our youth of the ability to connect. On cue come Elizabeth Birkenmier and Antonio Rodriguez, as two shy Gen Y-ers, on an awkward first date. They barely know themselves as they try to talk to each other, and when the lights for their alley abruptly snap on, they look at it as if it's some sort of monster. As they enter the brave new world of bowling (and after wearing themselves out after bowling one ball), their delight in actual face-to-face inaction reaffirms Bobbie's contention that "Bowling is a warm-up activity to entering real-life".
The second piece, “Anarchy of a Pin Boy” (authored by Carter Lewis), opens with Weinsting, in a ridiculous Reba McIntyre red wig, as Phyllis, the widowed mother of Birkenmeier as Betty, a young bowling prodigy. Betty misses her dad, and doesn't really like bowling all that much, but Mom seemingly has her entire future riding on the fortunes of her little one, and leaves her in the lanes to practice, demanding Betty stifle her artistic side, because her poetry "is disrespecting the clientele". Betty's daydreams of a better life summons the spirit of Rodriguez, as a 1950's pin boy, who in this age of writing essay technology doesn't quite realize his job is not needed anymore. Betty wonders if he's come from some "dark, skanky alley of hell". After a little flirtation, they realize they are quite attracted to each other, but that infatuation is blown apart, when an "ooky" kiss changes everything. The pin boy urges Betty to live her life and leave Missouri, which Betty claims is Heaven "if you like puppy mills and meth".
The last piece, “What Would Jesus Bowl?” (by Rubin, again) actually has little to do with Jesus. It is actually Archibald MacLeish's J.B. set in a bowling alley. Weinsting, in a long, flowing floor length gown and equally long, flowing floor length blonde wig, as God, and Birkenmeier, in a short, sexy black cocktail dress and naughty librarian glasses (accompanied, of course by red horns and wings) as the Devil, battle over the soul of poor, badly bearded Rodriguez as Job.
All three actors are wonderful in their roles, and direction by Joe Hanrahan is brisk, keeping things fast and funny, while not glazing over the real human touches, particularly the sweet relationship between Betty and the Pin boy. My only criticism is I thought that the direction for the first piece was a bit static, but my fears were allayed as soon as the second and third pieces opened up and used the space more.
And, to top it all off, like the cherry on a malt, the audience is encouraged to don those horrid bowling shoes and hurl a few rounds, gratis, on the seven open lanes during the intermission! How fun! I would go again just for that!
The show is fast, funny, fluffy fun, perfect for a summer's night spent in a bowling alley!
“Bowling Epiphany - The Revival” runs now through June 30th, at Epiphany Lanes, 3164 Ivanhoe. For tickets, visit onsitetheatre.org/tickets, or for more information, call (314) 686-0062.