Review by Wes Babcock
While you’re reading this, it might be beneficial to understand that Theatre of the Beat, the company behind This Prison, “tries its darndest to create thought-provoking theatre to educate, challenge and inspire a diversity of communities.” This Prison is a truly funny examination of the ways human beings cope with being alive. It examines through humor and strange-making the limitations of the systems we’ve built to bring order to our worlds when confronted with something fundamentally unexpected that shatters their boundaries. Well, metaphorically, at least. On stage, you’ll see a strong acting duo that work together to ensnare us in a simple but absurd comedy.
Comedy rarely benefits from explanation, so suffice to say that Johnny Wideman as the Inmate, bounces his energetic humor off the straight performance of the Visitor, played by Benjamin Wert. The jovial persona that the Inmate inhabits has been crafted through years of imprisonment as a coping mechanism for the inexplicability of his solitude. The Visitor’s appearance and serious demeanor are just one more inexplicable feature in the Inmate’s world, and his struggle to understand their place and implications is
The script of this show is tight, and the actors follow its cyclical flow around and around the clearly rising stakes as their ability to communicate approaches the breaking point. Wideman is great as the Inmate, allowing just the right amount of desperation through the veneer of good-humor. Wert’s performance is consistently solid, though on a couple occasions his character doesn’t adopt quite the energy necessary to overcome the Inmate’s manic scatteredness. His frustration, when it boils over, doesn’t ring quite as true as his calm patience. Perhaps a little more vocal work and direction in this moment would iron this out.
It also seems like this performance could benefit from a little more clarity on when exactly they are implicating the audience in the action and dialogue on stage. Refining this choice a bit would increase the impact of the moments when we are addressed explicitly.
The production straddles the line between philosophy and comedy with great success. Even if you come out of the show “not getting it,” you will definitely “get” your money’s worth for humor, talent… and tea.
Venue 4 SLB
This Prison or: He Came Up Through the Floor
Theatre of the Beat
Written by Johnny Wideman
Leah Harder Wideman