Picks :: The bar's their stage

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February 15, 2010 // UPDATED 8:42 am - February 15, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
// Local actors drink, make a scene at Joe’s Garage //

It goes like this:

You’re out to dinner, safely ensconced in the semi-privacy of your table and your date, when a titillating snatch of conversation reaches your ear. A pair of women contemplate lesbianism. An argument takes a racist turn. A hung-over couple falls silent when the girl’s Alcoholics Anonymous token clinks onto the table. Do you lean in for a closer listen? Of course you do. And if you’ve paid $15 for the privilege, you might even pick up your drink and move nearer to the action.

Thirst Theater — a set of 15-minute, bar-themed dramas that unfold every Monday night amongst the patrons of Joe’s Garage — was made for eavesdroppers. Audience members settle into the bar’s upper level, order drinks and then keep their eyes peeled for the staged intrigue waiting to erupt at a nearby table. Just two weeks ago, it was an ornery North Dakotan declaring his love for his waitress in song, a dysgraphic author blundering through a poorly planned stop on his book tour and a pair of strangers steering awkwardly through the aftermath of a one-night stand.

“The actors aren’t particularly in these perfect costumes,” said Lily Shaw, a member of the group’s Thirst Central Committee. “Maybe there’s a performer who’s sitting at someone’s table, and you don’t know that, and then they’ll just start the scene.”

Five “playlets” occur over the course of a performance. It’s like the theatrical equivalent of flash fiction, quick hits of pathos, poignancy and humor that leave you fiending for the next round. The setting is immersive, the action organic and spontaneous. There are no directors, no stage management, and each playwright is asked to write the script in one sitting. Actors are limited to only two hours of rehearsal.

“It’s straight from the playwright to the actors, from the page to the mouth,” said Shaw.

And just because their work is being produced in a bar, that doesn’t mean the playwrights are slumming it. Thirst’s roster of Bards boasts nine Bush, McKnight and Jerome awards; an Emmy nomination and an Emmy award; and a City Pages Artist of the Year. Craig Wright, a local playwright who has written and produced episodes for “Lost” and “Six Feet Under,” has also contributed a piece.

“Some of the subject matter is a little controversial,” said Shaw. “And to have that right next to you — at the table right next to you — can be a little alarming at times, but also exciting. There’s a little piece of voyeurism to it. There’s that reality television vibe. It’s like nothing I’ve ever been involved with.”

Thirst Theater

7:30 p.m., Monday nights
Joe’s Garage
Reservations encouraged