currently at the American Heartland Theatre (AHT) is a world premiere
production of one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in ages. AHT has graced us
with a number of musical plays having their first run in Kansas City in recent
years, but Beer For Breakfast by Sean
Grennan, outshines them all in my book.
story line is that a group of middle-aged men, who are lifelong buddies,
arrange for a guys-only weekend at the vacation home of one of them. As anyone
with any experience in these matters knows that means that the agenda consists
of consuming great quantities of alcohol, reminiscing, watching or talking
sports, eating bad food, not cleaning up after yourself, and complaining about
the women in your life. At least that’s the plan when the boys show up.
However, one of their numbers, the owner of the cabin, never appears. Their
consternation is doubled when his wife shows up instead, changing the entire
dynamic, and resetting all the rules.
cast is terrific, as has become expected in local theatre. Scott Cordes assumes
the central character TJ, and imbues him with the high-octane energy of an
overgrown hyperactive child. His energy allows him to dominate the other
characters, but not out of ill will or meanness of spirit. It is because TJ is
the idea man with the willingness to follow them through to the end. Richard
and Mark, played by Martin English and Sean Grennan, go along because TJ’s
ideas usually turn out to be fun. English and Grennan give us characters whom
you would want for your own best buddies; easy to get along with, low key and
funny. Yes, it’s the author himself playing the part of Mark, and based on his
autobiography, it seems to be the character closest to him in real life. Cathy
Barnett plays the wife of the missing partner, and is a comic match for anyone
in the business.
performances in the production are right on the money, but it was the writing
itself that shone most brightly for me. The play is beautifully constructed.
There were so many laughs that I missed some because they came too closely on
the heels of the previous lines that the audience was still laughing at.
However, it wasn’t like viewing plays awash in punch lines. There are very few
jokes in the play, and it isn’t a farce. Nobody looks at the audience and does
a take. The laughs are all character and situation driven. However, as is true
in much of great comedy, there are areas mined for laughs that might make some
people uncomfortable. But as often happens, those produce some of the heartiest
writing is full of unexpected delights. There is banter in the first scene that
we don’t recognize as foreshadowing until it pays off, big time, in the final
scene. Another surprise is the goofy production number that pops up in a scene
midway through, complete with singing and choreography. But the topper was a
piece of business that I’ve never, ever witnessed in six decades of watching
silly comedy. It made me want to stand and applaud out of sheer admiration in
the middle of a scene. I don’t want to spoil for you, but here’s a hint: Ricky
Ricardo in triplicate. Director Paul Hough has brilliantly staged a masterpiece
of modern silliness. Grennan’s play deserves to become a staple of the genre.
Beer For Breakfast is playing at the American Heartland Theatre
through Feb. 19. AHT is located in the third level of Crown Center. For
tickets, call the box office at 816-842-9999, or go online at www.ahtkc.com.
Greg Boyle can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.