Rowdy and reckless, 'Beef' not for everyone
By KAREN SHADE World Scene Writer 5/14/2007
Beware or be ready when you step through the doors of the Nightingale Theater on a "Big Beef" night -- you are the star attraction of this sendup of public meetings and forums.
At "Big Beef," the patrons are not an audience in the sense that they observe from afar. They are not separated from what goes on under the spotlight. From the moment a guest lays down that fiver for admission, the show has started.
"Big Beef's" grinning denizens cradling clipboards have a lot of questions to ask to be certain you are seated with your appropriate political and social set, for instance, "How many times a week do you have an orgasm?"
Anyone taken aback by the unapologetic absence of theater's oft-referenced, insular fourth wall might head for the door at that point. However, those curious enough to wait for what happens next will have a lot to tell their friends the next day.
John Q. Public (Joseph Gomez) is the blustering ring leader/moderator of this "meeting" with his wife Vaina (Sara Cruncleton) as clerk at his right and a zoned-out bailiff (Jae Wilson) to his left.
Minutes from the last session are read, nonsensical debates monitored and insult-hurling clowns pummeled with tennis balls by anyone who feels like earning his or her "side" some points to be tallied in the end. Fallen judges who have made news headlines in the last few years (do I have to spell it?) even get in on the hijinks in an unconventional way.
The big-top atmosphere of "Tulsa's demented town hall meeting" (the theater's proclamation) is the surreal side of small-town government presented by a company that, while trying to maintain neutrality, has actually left its commentary on the civic process and society through presentation and material.
Holding up a mirror to local government, history, religion and social attitudes would have been enough. But this perplexing stage test smacks of the liberal attitude the program attempts to satirize. Lefties take plenty of hits from Mr. Public, but it would seem the conservative identity is preferable to play in the bipartisan playground for parody's sake.
For all its cheekiness, "Big Beef" is just upfront and uncomfortable enough to make you a bit antsy. That energy, coupled with flowing beer, gives anyone loose lips and a willingness to say almost anything they may or may not agree with. One woman (who most likely wasn't drunk, actually) from the audience wearing a name tag reading "Princess" took a stand against the closing of city golf courses for the sake of the rich.
Some Nightingale regular cast members mingled Friday night among the audience. A few actually were part of several scripted sketches presented in the show, but most of them stood by to play the game that is "Big Beef" along with the theater visitors.
Nothing is sacred in this adult forum that is equal parts performance, improvisation, crude comedy and civics lesson -- but then so is life.
The main players get extra points for keeping the show moving. The theater gets points for presenting this experiment in entertainment in the buckle of the Bible Belt. And Pundit the Clown gets points for his outfits, which will not be pictured here.
Deduct points, however, for the fact that theater, even experimental theater, ought to be as engaging as it is reckless -- without the benefit of alcohol.
"Big Beef" continues at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. Fourth St. For tickets, call 633-8666.