Review: OnSite Theatre Gets Buggy With Its Newest Site-Specific Production

 In Culture

Have you ever seen a play performed in a bowling alley? How about a laundromat? Those are examples of performance venues OnSite Theatre Company has chosen for their site-specific theater company. The point isn’t just to perform in off-the-wall locales, but to perform in locations where the story actually takes place. There are no sets for this company; the place the play is performed is the set. Such is the case with their newest production, “A Prayer for the Gun Bug,” performed in Meskerem, an Ethiopian restaurant on South Grand Boulevard.

 Meskerem, an Ethiopian restaurant on South Grand Boulevard Photo by Christopher Reilly

Meskerem, an Ethiopian restaurant on South Grand Boulevard
Photo by Christopher Reilly

The play consists of three one-acts between people (and one rather large bug) dining in—you guessed it—an Ethiopian restaurant. The evening was delightfully absurd and unique, with enough food-for-thought that you could sop it up with some injera bread.

The three one-acts cover some tasty ground. In the first, “No-Preying,” a couple of church ladies (Peggy Billo and Jacqueline Thompson) talk about public praying and outward expression of religious beliefs, but a giant insect enters the room (Pete Winfrey in a hilarious, understated performance) and, being a praying mantis, can’t help but look like he’s praying, all of which relates to the current raging battle over public prayer in schools.

The next piece, tightly constructed, features Billow and Gary Wayne Barker sitting down to eat only to be asked to leave. Why? The valet can’t find a parking space for their car. In fact, there are no parking spaces to be had anywhere. The third entry is a wild, nonsensical but highly amusing free-for-all featuring the entire cast, including Paul Edwards appearing as officer Joe.

The scenes were all performed a little tongue-in-cheek, which easily could be annoying, but instead was just right, as though audience and actors were in on the same joke. Robert Van Dillen did the costumes, including the praying mantis ensemble. Carter Lewis’ scripts combine absurdity with seriousness and lots of humor, while director Bill Whitaker deftly guides the cast and the production. It was striking how the whole experience—enjoying some appetizers when a scene suddenly sprung up from tables in the middle of a Ethiopian restaurant on South Grand—didn’t seem so odd. It was as though the plays belonged there, which is, of course, the point.

“Prayer for the Gun Bug” continues this weekend through May 25. For tickets and information, visit the OnSite Facebook page.

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