The Making of a Great Moment: Chester Theater’s Funny Debut
Back in the Intimate Chester Theater for the Season Opener
Chester Theatre is back with a new four-show summer run, with a crazy, funny show that to some, might feel a bit too crazy.
I laughed often and out loud at this show performed in the tiny Hampden County town of Chester Massachusetts. The location of this theater, 45 winding road minutes from Northampton, is part of the appeal. What could be more fun on a sunny Thursday afternoon than a scenic drive over mountains, by the river, to this comfortable little theater? And dinner after the show on the porch of the wonderful Chester Common Table restaurant was first-rate.
The play is a two-person comedy that reminded me of listening to a Robin Williams riff. Nonsequiturs, historic references, preposterous theories about the questions that man asks other men about the human condition. And two appealing characters who have fun with their roles while spinning out funny lines and humorous pratfalls.
The premise was a fun idea–a pair of Canadian actors trekking across the state of New Hampshire putting on a show at various unglamorous locations. The show is called ‘Great Moments in Human Achievement,’ and is comprised of vignettes of the world’s great discoveries, from the first campfire to the wheel to a wonderfully complex bit about how humans first discovered how to kiss.
It was a rollicking ride, with funny physical humor done with dexterity, as we watch Terry Dean (Bill Bowers) and Mona Barnes (Ester Williamson) ride their bikes, change a flat tire, and finally, make love under the stars as the rollicking show came to a lurching conclusion.
This isn’t a show for everyone. Two seniors made a quick exit within the first ten minutes right next to us, and my companions felt that it was too long, and dragged a bit. Overall, I laughed so hard and had fun with the crazy non-sequiturs that I was content with the 95-minute length. The pair of actors had a good blend of oddity, they both loved to riff on their own hang-ups.
Mona’s was about adding some ad-libbing to the script of their show, and Terry’s was a dreamy recollection of his 407 acting roles and searing envy for his actor pals back in Toronto who just opened in a new play in a prestigious theater. He and Mona’s next show would be where? In the boondocks and dimly lit stages of New Hampshire. Ugh.
The play was written by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb and directed by James Barry. The show had its world premiere in nearby Lowell, MA in 2o17. The play within a play format provides for dozens of hilarious (to me!) 10-second impersonations…from the man who invented the bicycle to made-up characters like “Cremini” the man who ate the first mushroom, and ‘Apendictus,’ the Greek doctor, or the world’s first surgeon.
A bit of a Monty Python feel, and the frantic pace of the aforementioned comedy was great, but this wasn’t freefall improv. It was just a very clever script and actors who could wring accents, odd tones, and props to morph into characters that would pop up and fade away.
The idea of Mona and Terry’s play is that each of these people provided humanity with something important, hence the title, these are the great moments of human achievement, each is told with the actor using a new prop, from the draped sleeping bags making royal robes, to the saucepan helmet Terry dons in another quick scene about a general or someone else in history. The actors throw in different themes, Mona is very attached to her cheery slogans that turn even the darkest story into a charm, and Terry, the veteran semi-successful actor, wrestles with the indignity of their current assignment and wistfully pines for getting back for another long run in a show. Anything, just get him back in front of the lights.
The Making of a Great Moment: Chester Theater. 413-354-7770 www.chestertheatre.org