B.U.S. rides inspire sharp performances

CBS’s Big Brother, MTV’s The Real World, and VH1’s Flavor of Love can’t compete with the talent and raunch that the Bricolage Theater Group presented Friday, March 20, for their fourth annual fundraiser. On a night that began with a Chicks With Dicks T-shirt giveaway and featured an open bar, approximately 150 intrepid Pittsburgh theater insiders and Carnegie Mellon students filled a raucous, drunken proscenium-seated audience. The gratis booze and sushi, and the one-of-a-kind performance benefiting the city’s brightest talent in the theater community, came close to justifying the $40 price tag.

B.U.S. 4 Bricolage Urban Scrawl featured local theater artists creating and presenting six different 10-minute productions created in under 24 hours. Inspired by playwrights’ 90-minute journeys on various city bus lines on Thursday, directors and actors then had 12 hours to rehearse, memorize, and stage each script to debut on Friday night. The results amounted to a manic, bloodshot-eyed, inside-jokey corpse of a production — for those students willing to brave the downtown wilds of 937 Liberty Avenue and snooty conversations in the venue lobby. It felt like a crash test in experimental theater.

All six productions featured sharp, and alternatively black and slapstick humor that scored big laughs, at least among the members of the audiences who seemed to have personal relationships with performers. Of the six performances, “Aren’t you Richard Johnson?” and “28X” stood apart as serious, Beckett-ian meditations on language and serendipity. Granted, all six productions at least partially overcame the confining reality of bus-stop chit-chat. These chats occur between strangers, and can only reveal the faintest snapshots of acquaintances and relations in a space defined by its occupants’ transience.

Written by Rick Schweikert, directed by Sheila McKenna, and featuring Dave Flick, Eric Anderson, George Dalzell, and Lonzo Green, “Aren’t You Richard Johnson?” opened at a bus stop where four men were waiting. One, a University of Pittsburgh student holding a six-pack of Rolling Rock, realizes that another, a balding middle-aged man, may be a poet he likes named Richard Johnson. A burly, laid-off factory worker and a presumably homeless or high older man holding a bundle of flowers stand nearby. The homeless man hypnotically chanted at emotional beats in the piece, while the confused student, alleged poet, and laid-off factory worker argued over the alleged poet’s actual identity. The cross-generational and socioeconomic tensions boiling just beneath the surface of the piece made it a success. The metaphors flew furiously, and a few lines of competitive verse managed to achieve poetic nirvana. The three arguing actors had their moments of literary genius — we never find out who the real “Richard Johnson” was, though the manic man with the flowers and chant, the one they all disregarded and ignored, ironically was the character with the most cadence and rhythm to his speech.

Another piece —“28X” by Robert Isenberg, directed by David Whaen, and starring Karen Baum, Mary Harvey, and Don Digiulio — captured all the franticness of a young aspiring actress with a live-in mother. She turns to a dark-eyed stranger for comfort after seeing her mother off on a bus, and proceeds to pour out her melodramatic soul. The guy seemed nonplussed, but engaged her neurosis just enough to make their relationship interesting. He was in finance, she wanted to be an actress; they end up hopping on the next plane to Los Angeles — sounds like a hackneyed cliché, but they pulled it off. The writers of both these pieces might be worth checking out in the future.

With all the frantic energy of a midterm all-nighter on acid, and occasionally with a genuineness that theater artists with months of preparation might fail to achieve, B.U.S. 4 entertained and occasionally soothed the soul. The booze break in the middle made for a wild crowd, and the Chicks With Dicks T-shirt giveaway at the beginning injected just enough salaciousness to make it an arousing way to kick off a Saturday.