Saturday, June 06, 2009

Stretch the Sketch: TRADIN' PAINT

(reflection on TRADIN' PAINT by Catherine Bush. Produced by Theatre in the Square, Marietta, Georgia. Directed by Jessica West)

Photo: Kate Donadio as Lucky, Chad Martin as Skeeter, Eric Mendenhall as Coty, and Veronika Duerr as Darla.
Source: MJ Conboy

"I just hope my past history ends real soon," says the character Darla Frye near midpoint of TRADIN' PAINT, a play by Catherine Bush.
Truly, by midpoint, I felt the same way as Darla: I was getting a bit tired of character's "past histories" exposed in stand up comedy routines.

By then, she has already made the first step out of thirty years of passivity and self - deprecation by enrolling in an adult GED program, and the play is about to stretch the bounds of comedy sketch territory.

If her story weren't packaged as an extended comedy sketch about NASCAR culture, it's doubtful that Theatre in the Square would have been packed with laughing adults. A flag man lectures us on NASCAR for any "Yankees or atheists" in the crowd; Darla's dimwit boyfriend Coty relives his gridiron agonies with the Polka, NC "Dots"; and we get a lot of jokes about the play's fish out of water, a black gay English professor and NASCAR afficionado whose name is a joke straight out of the index of the playwright's American History textbook: Halley Smoot (one letter off from the infamous tarriff).

Just when I was afraid that I was in for a couple of unpleasant hours a la the predictably snide GREATER TUNA the characters begin to interact in dialogue, bumping up against each other. That's what "tradin' paint" means in NASCAR lingo, we're told.

The sketch format gives Playwright Bush a lot of flexibility. In Act One, we meet Lucky Tibbs, self - confident, competent, and tough -- everything Darla is not -- and she treats us to "the condensed version" of her courtship of racecar driver Skeeter Jett. In Act Two, Darla confronts all her demons, as well as God and Dale Earnhart. Darla confronts Coty, Coty confronts Lucky, and the coming together of all these characters touches us as much as stand - up cartoon cut - outs of act one can.

It's a great pleasure to watch, and the sketch format is a good one to emulate, though I don't think I need to see something like it again any time soon.


Anonymous said...

i think u r a awome teacher

Anonymous said...

what is ur fav. play u have ever directed

Smoot said...

Harold Pinter's BETRAYAL, performed by three excellent seniors (with a junior as the waiter) around 1984 was memorable. They did most of the work as an independent study, and I staged it in the last couple weeks of rehearsal. I remember the slow fade on stage and stunned silence in the crowded theatre before the eruption of applause.