Macbeth on the Move

Two unconventional theatrical events--a play in a park and a monolog show--are linked by one woman

In the bio provided by one organization she's involved with, Sybille Bruun is described simply as a "Danish person." But there's much more than that to Bruun, who has her fingers in at least three different theatrical productions this month.

First, of course, she's up to her elbows as one of the masterminds of Live Theatre Workshop's Etc. series, which is currently presenting Stop Kiss (see review elsewhere in this section). But she's pulling at least one hand out of that pot long enough to plunge it into the blood of Shakespeare's Macbeth, which will get a series of unusual free performances at Reid Park, weekends April 14-May 1. And she's been taking time away from rehearsing the role of Lady Macbeth to dip at least a pinky into one more effort, Monolog Cabin; Bruun is directing and staging that evening of comic monologs organized by Tucsonan Steve Barancik (he wrote the screenplays for The Last Seduction and No Good Deed) and his wife, artist Carrie Seid Barancik.

Macbeth is another of Bruun's partnerships with actor Matt Walley, her co-conspirator at Live Theatre Workshop (see "Live From the Eastside," Jan. 22). For their Shakespearean outing, they've formed something called the Brachiate Theatre Project. As an adjective, "brachiate" means having widely spread branches arranged in pairs, which is a fitting description of Bruun and Walley and their efforts these days. But as a verb, it means to swing by the arms from branch to branch, like an ape. And that ties in with Bruun's and Walley's inspiration for their Macbeth production, New York's Gorilla Repertory Theatre Company.

Gorilla Rep--yes, that's "gorilla," not "guerilla"--made its reputation putting on Shakespeare plays in parks around New York City, with the audience not seated in one spot, but following the actors around. That's the model for the Brachiate Theatre Project, which will mount a 90-minute version of Macbeth on Reid Park's Barnum Hill, just west of the zoo.

"It's a performance in a nonperformance space," says Walley, who takes the title role.

"It makes the audience something other than passive observers," Bruun adds, in an accent that is cultured English rather than Danish. "Usually, people don't have to engage in theater; they just sit and watch. Here, everybody--the audience and the actors--must respond to their surroundings. There'll be no dozing off in this performance. It's not a very subtle play. There's love, passion, ambition, murder--a variety of things for people to relate to. "

During rehearsals, the actors have had to contend with distractions that don't afflict most troupes, like noisy planes overhead and aggressive ducks. Their rehearsals have been open to whoever happens to be in the park, and Walley says people don't hesitate to come over and find out what the noise is about.

"We made 75 cents the other day," he says. "Some kids came up and gave us money."

"This is great, because the kids around there can see that grownups can play, too," says Bruun.

Because the actors are already surrounded by nature--or Reid Park's version of it--the costumes and bits of set will feature vibrant colors, not earth tones.

"We didn't want fur and tribalism," Bruun notes.

Music will be provided by the Japanese-style drumming of Odaiko Sonora.

Neither Bruun nor Walley will admit any concern about the elements. If the wind kicks up and makes the dialog hard to hear, the audience members can simply step closer--they'll be within a yard or two of the actors most of the time. And if it rains, the show will go on as long as anybody cares to stand and watch it. As Macbeth says, "Let it come down."

Bruun's involvement in Monolog Cabin is quite modest compared to her Brachiate and Live Theatre Workshop contributions. She's merely directing the one-night monolog show, April 10 at Club Congress.

The monolog writers deliver their own material.

"They're brilliant writers but not necessarily performers, which is why I'm there," says Bruun. "But they don't really need much direction. So my job, because there are no parameters to what they're writing and no theme to the show, is to find some red thread to move through the evening, perhaps using music or movement to find the few commonalities that do exist."

Steve and Carrie Barancik launched Monolog Cabin last November. Like Walley and Bruun, they were inspired by something they saw in the Big City--in their case, Los Angeles.

"It blew us away," says Steve Barancik, "and we thought, 'Hell, we know funny enough people to do this here,' and we were desperate to try it ourselves."

Each of the participants--this month, the Baranciks, Charlotte and Faitha Lowe-Bailey, Margo Taylor, Howard Allen and marquee guest Scott Carter (Bill Maher's writer-producer; see "Spirited Suspension," Jan. 1)--is coming up with a 10-minute comic monolog drawn more or less from personal experiences. Each writer then steps up to a microphone and reads the piece. Each piece is like a Spalding Gray monolog, except that it's drastically condensed and offers more laugh lines. And nobody is supposed to jump off a ferry at the end.

"Our guidelines are that it must be first-person and funny," says Barancik. "If the subject is serious, it had better be handled in a funny fashion.

"There are no true performers among us, except maybe Howard Allen," says Barancik. "We're writers. This is smart stuff; it's not one-liners. Which is not to say that it's sophisticated. In fact, this coming show is probably going to be somewhat raunchy. But each piece is a coherent whole, rather than one-liners strung on a theme or a persona, like you get with standup comedy."

Explains Allen, "In one way it is like standup comedy, because it's direct communication with the audience, breaking down that fourth wall. But this is storytelling, more like what Bill Cosby does than what Jerry Seinfeld does. Some of Bill Cosby's most famous stuff is first-person stories from his childhood that go on for 10, 15, 20 minutes. A long piece for Seinfeld is two minutes, even if he puts himself in the funny story. And then there are standup people who are just doing a string of setup-punchline, setup-punchline, without telling a story at all."

Monolog writing has not been a major preoccupation of these participants since their school days, except for Carter, who tours with evening-length monologs. Most of them have concentrated on plays or screenplays or journalism or humor columns.

"This is my first time to be up telling a first-person story," says Allen, a former Tucson Weekly editor who has written a number of scripts and, in the 1970s, acted in and directed dinner-theater productions. But writing his monolog has been similar to writing a play, he says, "because even though it's first-person and the source material is your own life, you're still thinking about it in terms of story and character development."

Allen won't reveal much about his monolog, except that "it's about what's gonna happen when I die and go to heaven. It's going to be more interesting for me than it is for you non-Mormons. Just know that I still have a lot of Mormons in my family, and we look out for each other when it comes to this heaven thing."

He will make one admission: "I haven't been an official member of the church for quite some time, but I was never removed from the rolls, despite all my sinful behavior and voting Democrat."

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