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"An Ounce of Blues", "Karkovice"

Two short plays offer very different slices of life

By Phyllis Zhu | Posted 3/31/2010

"An Ounce of Blues", "Karkovice"

By Jim Cary, By Joe Dennison

Through April 3 at Mobtown Theater

Mobtown Playwrights Group present two one-acts: "An Ounce of Blues" by Jim Cary and "Karkovice" by Joe Dennison. "An Ounce of Blues," set in the Jim Crow-era right before the outbreak of World War II, tells the story of a young soldier, Jack (Dave Polgar), who has come to the heart of the South to find his blues idol, Mr. Walter (Michael Butscher). Jack walks in like a puppy—overly friendly, ready to fight, and unaware that his warmth towards Mr. Walter and his caretaker, Regina (Lauren Blackwell), may land him in trouble with the law and the bossman, Mr. Wallace (Richard Peck). Yet it is precisely his genuineness and eagerness to hear some authentic blues that wins over the cantankerous Mr. Walter, who is at first reluctant to associate with a white man, and the soft-spoken Regina, who is instantly attracted to him.

Though the play has light points, including a jitterbug which allows Regina and Jack to get down and dirty and a blues piece about catfish, the gaiety of those scenes is undercut by some subtle and not-so-subtle reminders of the racial tension and inequalities of that time. At one point, Jack comments that Regina must like geography when she recites the seven continents. She responds haughtily that yes, even colored people go to high school. And when Mr. Walter runs into the two dancing together, he raises his cane and berates them for even being seen together, since it could put them all at risk.

Butscher's performance as a grumpy, but secretly soft, old man is entertaining, as he mutters and groans, but in the end, takes up his guitar and plays a cool blues tune. Blackwell also plays her character well, embodying a sweet love-sick young woman who yearns for independence but fears it as well. She looks away bashfully when Jack flirts with her and hides behind Mr. Walter when Jack provokes him. Similarly, Polgar makes us cringe and smile at the same time, with his stubbornness and his naive principles of chivalry. In "An Ounce of Blues," writer Cary provides a good blend of fun and seriousness, blues and Jim Crow, love and oppression.

The second one-act, Joe Dennison's "Karkovice," offers clever wordplay and blue musings combined in a stream-of-consciousness monologue delivered by disheveled, vodka-fueled artist, Karkovice (Mark Squirek). He is the epitome of the artist on the rocks—chugging vodka, stuck in an unproductive artistic funk, and facing his own slow mental deterioration. Karkovice's ramble is reminiscent of Allen Ginsberg's 1961 Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg, which was inspired by the Jewish tradition of the mourners' Kaddish, a prayer that is recited during the mourning period after the death of a parent, child, or spouse. Though Karkovice strings us along with word associations, name dropping, and non sequiturs, he returns, time and again, to the death of his lover and his artistic inspiration, revealing his loneliness and profound grief.

Karkovice paces back and forth in his paint-splattered cage, sometimes on the floor, sometimes by his drink, but always coming back to one of the colored blocks of canvas that represent an aspect of his life—dark Karkovice, deep red lover, blank God, misunderstood orange. It becomes clear, after a few lines, that the creative babble is more than just words. Squirek, who has produced several plays at Mobtown, gives us poetry in his performance, showing the crisis of not only losing one's artistic abilities but also of losing one's companion, with his alternately energetic and abject monologue. He adds a degree of anxiety and intensity to his performance that keeps us listening. As he shouts "Papaya! Papaya!" as if it were the answer to all his problems, you can't help but smile at and pity Karkovice at the same time.

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