‘II Plays’ offers a comical look at language | SteamboatToday.com

‘II Plays’ offers a comical look at language

Doug Crowl

— As advertised, “II Plays,” the latest production at the Seventh Street Playhouse, has some risqulements at least one of the two plays does. But don’t think that should be a reason not to go see Seth Bograd’s sixth directorial project.

The fact is, “II Plays,” which is a performance of David Ives’ “The Universal Language” and Shel Silverstein’s “The Devil and Billy Markham,” is a spectacular voyage through language and spirituality that encourages a rigorous rediscovering of communication and personal ethics. They also are really funny.

There is a reason Bograd publicly thanks the writers of the two plays before the production begins. Both “one-acts” stand alone as genius pieces of writing, comically delving into uncharted territory of thought and expression without being academic or pretentious. But stories could not have been told with the actors successfully giving entertaining, and at times incredible, performances.

“The Universal Language” stars Brandon Amato and Aly Matthews. Amato plays Don, the creator of a universal language of rhymes, rhythms and a stream of conscience uttering, which he says will bring the world together. The first willing student of the language is Dawn, played by Matthews a stuttering, shy girl who answers a newspaper ad for the language class. Both Amato and Matthews display a mind-boggling ability in performing the “universal language,” which really must be seen to understand. (Amato speaks the language through most of his performance.)

In the process of Matthews’ character learning the lingo, common elements of the English language are stripped down for the audience, revealing the core of human communication. This is all achieved in a comical setting of the stuttering Matthews and the verbal dexterity of Amato. The play has a surprising ending and a true message for those who listen. Doug Lockhart has a small part in the end to wrap the story up.

“The Devil and Billy Markham” picks right up where “The Universal Language” leaves off, as far as holding the audience’s attention. This is a story of Billy Markham, an unknown country music singer who gambles with the devil and discovers unearthly truths in a series of adventures between heaven and hell.

An unnamed backpacker, played by Ben Eilers, eagerly tells of Markham’s adventures in segments. Eilers is great, successfully performing Silverstein’s poetry with the joy and energy of a campfire storyteller. At times the story is blushing, but only fitting for a broken-down country music performer. The theme, immersed in the comical predicaments Markham finds himself in, is ever changing as the story unfolds, revealing Silverstein’s perspective on God and the devil.

“II Plays” wraps up its two weekends of performances tonight and Saturday night. Tickets can be purchased at All That Jazz and at the door. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the show begins at 8 p.m. at the Seventh Street Playhouse.

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