Sketchbook Reincarnate at Collaboraction | Theater review

Collaboraction’s 12th annual new-works festival expands its palette.

Photograph: SaverioTruglia
[fər] women in Sketchbook Reincarnate

Reincarnate transforms Collaboraction’s annual Sketchbook into something bigger. For the festival’s 12th outing, the daylong Reincarnate comprises five different programs featuring 14 new works, some longer than the fest’s traditional seven-minute format. That format lives on in “The Seven,” showcasing plays under seven minutes by authors such as Ike Holter and Carlos Murillo. In “The Three,” the pieces range from 25 to 45 minutes. The stand-alone works include a documentary theater piece in which a local entertainer is interviewed (“The Interview”), an expanded version of a previous Sketchbook entry (“[fər] women”) and the highlight of this year’s festival: a solo performance from a talking mime named Honeybuns.

“The Seven” is the stronger of the two short-play collections, suggesting the classic Sketchbook model continues to be the most effective. The longer plays of “The Three” have more time to lose steam. Beginning with two dramas—one a conceptual piece about violence, the other about death-row inmates—makes for an awkward transition into the screwball humor of “Psychonaut Librarians.” It might be easier to appreciate James Asmus and Crystal Skillman’s comedy if we hadn’t just watched five people break down over their last meals. And Dani Bryant and Erica Barnes’s powerful “Last Meal Man” should close a show, not get lost in the middle.

While the quality of “The Seven” varies, the program’s quick pace ensures nothing underwhelming is onstage for long. Murillo’s chilling family drama “Mendacity, or the Herd of Elephants in the Room,” about a man with a body growing out of his nose, covers an impressive amount of material in seven minutes. As a pageant contestant who’s the reincarnation of Galileo Galilei, Mallory Nees gives an inspiring solo performance in “Invention of Falling.” “The Seven” concludes with “Untitled 862,” a movement-based meditation on death and rebirth; the abstract piece beautifully visualizes this Sketchbook’s subtitle.

Originally presented at Sketchbook X, “[fər] women” tells the stories of four characters from the Nina Simone song “Four Women.” Through dance, song, poetry and traditional scene work, six performers trace African-American women’s experiences across generations. Despite the cast’s strong energy, the work drags in the middle (there’s a reason Simone condensed the four tales into one song).

Honeybuns, the twisted creation of Dean Evans, wears a yellow bodysuit stuffed with inner tubes, looking like a giant, lumpy lemon. Over 45 hilarious minutes, Honeybuns engages in some of the most inviting audience interaction I’ve seen. He teaches audience members fixed-point technique, gives gifts and asks us to pull up the dirtiest pictures on our phones so we have something shameful before our eyes. At times Honeybuns casts a look inward for surprisingly poignant and introspective speeches, but a communal experience is the mime’s ultimate goal. His final act brings the performance into the outside world, inviting the rest of Wicker Park to join the fun—a fitting gesture for this year’s more expansive Sketchbook.

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