The theme for this year's iteration of Riverside Theatre's annual monologue show, "Walking the Wire," is "Merge." The marketing for the show, which is directed by Jody Hovland, has prominently featured the yellow highway sign that signals an upcoming blending of lanes. The best of the show's 12 pieces, Jesse Longman's "Merge," centers on a tragedy at just such a spot on the road.
Each year, Riverside Theatre solicits monologues, generally with a common, if flexible theme, from writers around the country. The result - this year as in years past - is a show featuring a variety of voices and tones that highlights excellent solo performers.
Longman, who hails from Ridgefield, Conn., crafted a brilliant monologue featuring a traffic expert who is testifying about an accident. The expert, perfectly portrayed by Tim Budd, argues passionately for a better and more universal understanding of the rules and terminology of the road. It soon becomes clear that the man has a personal stake in the situation he is describing, and Budd convincingly takes us on his emotional journey. "Merge" reminds us that the many and varied techniques we employ to make sense of the world and to protect those we love are all too often, in the end, powerless.
"Merge" is the first piece of the second act, and its position there arguably makes Budd's accomplishment even more impressive. The actor also performs the final work of the first act, Alex Dremann's "Apex." Dremann, of Philadelphia, imagines a man recounting the ever more perfect relationship he has been enjoying for years. Budd's performance slowly builds in intensity as his character rejoices in his ongoing good fortune. The piece ends with a twist, well-executed by performer and technical team alike, and closes the first half of the show powerfully. I wondered if a 15-minute intermission would be enough to allow the audience to see Budd in a new role when the light's went down again, but I should not have underestimated the actor's talent, especially when provided Longman's exceptional script.
Jamie Pachino's "Have a Little Faith," was another strong entry. In the Los Angeles author's piece, Kristen Behrendt plays a woman giving an unusual bar mitzvah speech. As the title suggests, the monologue is about faith--in her partner, in her child, in her community, and just possibly in God--and Behrendt delivers it with a palpable sincerity. Late in the piece, the text meanders just a bit too much, but Behrendt carries it through, and the result is moving.
"Then and Now," written by Laura Story Johnson of Evanston, Ill., and performed by Jessica Wilson, was also strong work. In a monologue both funny and poignant, Wilson's character seeks to reconcile her younger self--childless and adventuresome--with her current self--a put upon parent who feels she has lost control of her life. Wilson captures the exquisite final moment impeccably.
Elijah Jones also turned in a strong performance in "P.S. I Merged" by Iowa City's Janet Schlpakohl. Jones plays a high school student who is both exceptionally smart and extremely socially awkward. This sort of character could easily be performed as a sort of pop culture cliche (think "Big Bang Theory"), but Jones finds the boy's heart and soul. The result is sweet without being syrupy.
"Walking the Wire" is a wonderful tradition in the Corridor's theater community, and the 2014 edition is well worth your time.
When: 7:30 p.m. March 6 and 7 and 2 p.m. Sunday and March 9.
Tickets: (319) 338-7672 or Riverside Theatre, 213 N. Gilbert St., Iowa City, or online