Iowa City – Riverside Theatre’s Walking the Wire is one annual highlight of the local theatre scene, and for good reason. The performances are often fantastic, the writing is often fresh and multifaceted, and the roiling complements of comedy and tragedy provide a routinely enjoyable evening for audiences of this amaranthine platform.
As in years past, some familiar faces bring great performances to the event, even to the few underwhelming included monologues. And as in years past, the monologues with the most resonance and impact were those performed by their writers. Director Jody Hovland must have realized this to some degree, as she placed a writer-performer at both the beginning and end of the evening. Specifically, she placed the two most baldly autobiographical pieces of the evening (Chris Okiishi’s “Bully for You” and Janet Schlapkohl’s “Valentine Bunnies”) as those bookends, and I applaud this subtle, warranted use of symmetry. The third writer-performer, Ron Clark, imbues his happily-sad, fictitious story with the seemingly effortless gravitas one has come to nearly take for granted after so many years—but never should.
Actress Jessica Wilson should also be highlighted for giving two of—and possibly the single best—performance(s) of the evening. Her skill in bringing to life Alex Dremann’s “Jan-Candy and the Elvis Tattoo” is a comic tour de force, making this monologue a shining light of the evening when it could have been a difficult slog to watch in lesser hands. Similarly, Felipe Carrasco brings necessary energy and enthusiasm to the material in Kent Forsberg’s “Hieronymus Bond, Secret Agent” that—without such energy and enthusiasm—would have made this bluntly comic monologue difficult to appreciate. Finally, actors Andrew Mehegan and Debo Balogun give strong performances in shorter, emotionally-effective monologues, and I enjoyed actress Mary Bryant’s sweet performance of a monologue-that’s-really-an-internal-monologue, the type of which many of us (or at least I) have had from time-to-time about something so ostensibly inert as a suitcase.
If I had a single complaint about the evening, it would be the theme. The trick to creating a night of monologues that revolve around a theme is that all of the monologues have to in some way revolve around that theme. Tautologically simplistic as that statement is, I think Riverside would do well to consider it during their selection process next year. This is the third Walking the Wire I’ve attended, the first I’ve reviewed, and the third time I’ve had this complaint. That is not to say that the monologues selected weren’t wonderfully fun, entertaining, and/or passionately-written; but the argument that each piece fit the theme is stretched paper-thin in some cases. There were at least three of the monologues that struck me as something a submitter had written for another reason, then—upon seeing the Riverside call-for-submissions—shoehorned a few B.S. lines in here-and-there about something being “classified” to fit the theme. I love monologues; I think they’re an amazing showcase for a writer’s talents and an actor’s range, but when doing a showcase of such performances, I’d rather see either a selection of the best submissions period OR the best submissions that strongly adhered to a cohesive theme.
The night almost certainly could have been strengthened by pruning two, possibly even three, monologues from its bushes, but it was an enjoyable evening overall and maintained the goodwill and aplomb that Walking the Wire has built-up over the years.