Sacrifice Cliff Theatre Company is the newest arts venue in Billings, nestled in humble quarters in the Grafix Studio building at 504 N. 20th St.
The performance area, which seats 50, brings to mind the shabby garret room in Act I of “La Boheme,” all odd corners and mismatched sections of wall. The space, with seating for up to 50, has a fun, edgy feel. It all reminded me of Venture Theatre’s early days in the garage on Central Avenue.
“We want a place where artists in the community can produce local work,” said Patrick Wilson, the theater’s mastermind. “A place to share their unique voices and get instant feedback from the audience.”
Funding for upkeep and performances is based on a wing and a prayer. “We do ‘pay what you will.’ So far, it’s working well,” he continued. Patrons are asked to pitch what they think the performance is worth, anything from a quarter to a few dollars.
Ern, who collects the donations, sits at the door. Ern really is a green urn (pun, pun!) Is Ern a real 1940s urn? I flipped him over. No. A reproduction, made in China.
Last Friday, three gifted actors read the play “Among Beautiful Women” by George Carroll with poetry by George Lachlan, a work written to be performed anywhere without having to pay a royalty. There were no props, no set, and C.J. Armstrong read the stage directions and descriptions. I liked this. I allowed me to use my imagination.
Carroll’s play is replete with allusions to fairy tales, great literature, psychology and history. For instance, “A bake sale for the Black Panthers.” You laugh if you know who the Black Panthers were.
The cast of three, Burl/Toad, played by Gustavo Bottega, girlfriend Casey/Princess played by Donita Beeman, and X wife Kate played by Amanda Megyisi-McCave, shift positions. The X wife becomes the other woman, who’s jealous of the current girlfriend, who’s jealous of the X wife.
It’s all reminiscent of an 18th century farce. They sneak around, eavesdrop, and, improbably, have a long conversation where, to begin with, neither recognizes the other.
It’s a laugh a minute. But as the story progresses, a dark undertone appears.
Casey decides to solve her and Burl’s problems by leaving. “What’s wrong is the result of where you are.” She’s off to New York or Tangiers, but makes it a mere 40 miles into the California desert, only to return.
Remarks about drinking start with Burl’s clever poem about beer, move to his bitter “Johnny Walker’s my tour guide, my amber love,” to a gritty confrontation between Burl and Kate about his drunken behavior at the end of their marriage.
The three actors, scripts in hand, with no costumes, props or set, did a splendid job of creating that “willing suspension of disbelief” (Coleridge). This play left me with so much to think about that I’d like to see it again. And there may be a chance for that. The company is considering a full production in the fall, possibly late September.
Still on the program for July:
This Saturday, at 5 p.m. July 13, Go! The Artist’s Workshop Presents: Jamie Greene and Ryan Gage. The playwrights read excerpts from their current works with an audience critique.
At 8 p.m. Friday, July 19, is Shad Scott’s “Awful Movie Friday.” Viewers are encouraged to boo, hiss and throw popcorn at the screen. The movie is to be announced.
From July 26-28 is “Lysastrata.” Details will follow.