Jarecki leads cast of literate illiterates at In Tandem

Doug Jarecki sparkles at In Tandem Theatre

How funny is Doug Jarecki?

I was standing in line to pick up my ticket for “All The Great books (Abridged) at In Tandem Theatre Friday night when I heard this voice from behind me.

“Hey Dave,”

I turned around. It was Jarecki.I started to laugh. He didn’t do anything, but there I was laughing at him. And laughing.

“Have a great show,” said, shaking hands. Then I walked into the theater, a smile on my face.

That’s how funny Doug Jarecki is.

Jarecki is one third of a sparking cast in one of the funniest, and silliest, shows likely to be on the stages in Milwaukee this season.

The show opens with Jarecki, cast as “Coach” arrives in a high school classroom to announce that the remedial reading program (for the audience) will consist of an examination of the 89 greatest books ever written. The announcement is followed by an avalanche of the books being thrown over the walls from all angles, to fall on the stage.

Jarecki is soon joined by drama professor, Ryan Schabach and student teacher Matt, Chris Goode.

Doug Jarecki and Ryan Shabach

Through dozens and dozens of costume changes, some profound some only hinting at an identity, the three actors create a summary of the 89 great books. To us the word “abridged” is kind of like saying Donald Trump is a moron. It just doesn’t seem like enough.

Laying out the curriculum includes “Ulysses, The Iliad, The Odyssey, Remembrance of Things Past, Moby Dick, Don Quixote, Charles Dickens and….War and Peace.” Sight gag to follow with the dropping of a book that is probably a foot and a half thick. A memory for everyone who had to slog through the Leo Tolstoy challenge.

Here’s a piece of script from the play that captures what the 90 minute evening is all about.

Professor: To give you a taste of the anticipation and drama experienced by the 19th century reader, we are proud to present to you, Charles Dickens continuing soap opera…(soap opera music begins) Great Expectations. And now, episode seventeen of Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Tittles. Charles Darnay, trapped in prison, is being interrogated by the evil Madame Defarge.

(Coach and Matt enter as their characters are introduced. Coach wears handcuffs and kneels center. Matt wears a skirt and wig. Professor exits).

Matt: It is the best of times.

Coach: It is the worst of times.

Matt: Like sands through the hourglass….

Coach: …these are the Days of our Lives.

Matt: You will not live to see another day, Monsieur Darnay. You French aristocrats have destroyed Pine Valley. But we, the Bold and the Beautiful, are now the Young and the Restless.Our day has come.

Coach: You must recant your lies so that I can return to my loving wife Lucie Manette and our four little ones.

Matt: Ha! There are no longer four. We have executed Jean-Renault.

Coach: You shot J.R?

Matt: Oui!

(They exit. The Professor enters)

Trust me on this. It’s much,much funnier in person.

Under the direction of Chris Flieller and the awesome number of costumes from Kathy Smith, the space at In Tandem is filled with more characters than the Donald Trump cabinet. (I know I keep using Trump, but the target is just too easy).

Schabach is a very funny guy, in the Don Knotts/Mr. Rodgers tradition. He’s stuffy and friendly at the same time with a face full of expression. He’s an accomplished physical comedian and leads with his chin as he’s headed for a laugh line.

Goode is young and has a hangdog expression on his face with a morose glare that makes him look like he’s befuddled by life. You have expect him to start crying any minute.

And then there is Jarecki who has the kind of humor that both bites and soothes at the same time. His timing is perfect and he moves with thoughtful purpose with nary a misstep. He is a joy to watch on the stage and it’s with real anticipation that he will resurrect his “‘Twas the Month Before Christmas” at Next Act Theater in December.

But don’t wait until then to see him. Run to In Tandem to see a play that could be silly and wasted but manages to be silly and meaningful at the same time.

The production runs through Oct. 29 and information on showtimes and tickets is available at www.intandemtheatre.org.

About davebegel@gmail.com

Theater Critic in Milwaukee.
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