Babble For Your Soul

Babble for Your Soul is a rare opportunity to see live theatre with very minimal commitment and the pleasure of being entertained, engaged, perhaps edified

'Babble for Your Soul'

City Theatre, through Sept. 9

Il Teatro Nostro, the latest addition to Austin's lively local theatre scene, is an intentional double entendre. A reference to the Mafia and its function in society as an underground alternative establishment, it is also to be read literally as "Our Theatre," to convey the idea that theatre belongs to all of us. That the original Sicilian distinction of "our thing, cosa nostra" was meant to imply a differentiation with "their thing" and therefore exclusivity and a regional isolationism is perhaps to unnecessarily split hairs.

Founded by James Brownlee and a group of like-minded individuals, the company has as a genesis the admirable intention of making theatre accessible to all, ostensibly blurring the lines between "art" and "popular" theatre to appeal to a wider audience. That they plan to use ticket sales to aid other nonprofits in the community shows a particularly altruistic spirit, remarkable in a field not known for its remunerative advantages. Their inaugural production, "Babble for Your Soul," consists of three comic one-act plays, and the choice of format – short, simple, modest in aspiration – and staging is an astute one for a young company. It is an excellent example of starting small and doing something well, an organic model for growth that should serve them well as they move on to more ambitious projects.

The first of the three is a vaguely biblical farce following the linguistic difficulties of two slaves when confronted with the task of building the Tower of Babel. It is by far the weakest of the evening, if at times it does capture a very broad comic charm. The costumes are bright and the set amusingly cartoonish, but though an obvious point is being made about language and meaning, the script is too all over the place to really click. Bouncing between a kind of dated contemporary satire, Borscht Belt-inflected wordsmithing, and deep philosophical questions about God, class, and the function of language, the piece works best when the two leads, Mercury McCall and Brock England, establish a kind of bantering, "who's on first"-style rhythm, and the nonsense of the script falls into a familiar, if silly, vaudevillian mold.

After an impressively quick costume change, the two are back in the second play, a cute foray by Shel Silverstein, as a pair of advertising executives charged with the task of graphically combining the peace symbol with the have-a-nice-day smiley face. As they grow more and more frustrated by their task, Crystal Caviel provides the perfect straight man as their dissatisfied client, unwilling to accept the ideological implications of this impossibility. The premise is clever, the writing witty, and the strength of McCall and England as a comic team begins to emerge.

By the third play, the rapport between them is sure, constant, and a pleasure to watch. In an original work by Christian Hugo Bazan, set in a coffee shop, the two play a pair of disgruntled baristas who argue, joke, and philosophize about their lives in a manner and environment instantly familiar to any Austinite under the age of 40. Bazan has a remarkable ear for dialogue, the young cast is attractive and personable, and the whole scene plays out with the deceptively effortless veracity of a truly successful work of art.

Director James Brownlee can be faulted for allowing his actors to indulge in an early boisterousness that mildly detracts from their talents, but he has them reel it in with each successive vignette, until the third section evolves as 20 minutes of theatre as adept and professional as any in this town. This is no small accomplishment for a new company's first production, a production which, in keeping with their intention of making theatre accessible to the masses, is mercifully short. Clocking in at only one hour, "Babble for Your Soul" is a rare opportunity to see live theatre with very minimal commitment, and the pleasure of being entertained, engaged, perhaps edified, and done by 9pm should not be overlooked, an excellent prelude to a weekend evening.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Babble For Your Soul, Il Teatro Nostro, James Brownlee, Mercury McCall, Brock England, Christian Hugo Bazan

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