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Riverside’s ‘Walking the Wire’: More variety than a 50-foot salad bar

BY KATIE HANSON | MARCH 5, 2009 7:19 AM

“You’ll never believe it. Dan asked me to dinner yesterday.”

“I just got the biggest sushi craving.”

“You’ve never had falafel before? That’s ridiculous. You have to try it.”

Think about all of the times you have talked about food today — or had entire conversations about it. For the average American (whoever that might be), that number can be substantial — large enough to explain the Food Network, and the basis of some friendships, and the country’s obesity epidemic. This weekend, Riverside Theatre will grant everyone the excuse to discuss the topic in even more exhaustive detail during the 10th-Annual Walking the Wire monologues, which will be performed today through March 8 at Riverside Theatre, 213 N. Gilbert St.

This year, the theme is food.

“[Food is] just something we kept coming back to,” said Ron Clark, the director of the monologues. “It’s universal. Everyone has a story. Our motto for it is, ‘More variety than a 50-foot salad bar,’ so it’s something we can have a lot of fun with.”

Riverside Theatre sent out a call for monologues and received roughly 100 submissions from around the country, Clark said. The staff then pared the entries down to 12 pieces with more variation than a Tuscan feast.

“[The monologues] range from a frustrated ex-girlfriend who gets a birthday cake from her ex-boyfriend to a waitress who came to the city seeking fame but ends up waiting on some rather nasty people,” Clark said.

Because food is one of the ubiquitous subjects in the world, the playwrights drew their inspirations from myriad sources and penned their monologues about much more than a simple slice of deli meat.

Amy Tofte, a Los Angeles playwright, said she wrote “No Treats for the Second Poop,” based on the time she spent visiting her brother in Bay Ridge, a New York City neighborhood.

“My brother had just got a new dog, and he had to deal with training it,” she said. “He was explaining how the dog gets a treat when he poops, but ‘no treat for the second poop.’ I just started laughing hysterically.”

Tofte’s monologue involves a middle-age man piecing together why his wife has left him.

“It’s tied back to the dog they had together,” she said. “The dog always tried to pull one over on him, because the dog is really smart and will outsmart him to get treats … it’s a love/hate relationship that reflects back on his wife.”

“No Treats for the Second Poop” is just one of many pieces that concerns love gone as bad as milk three weeks past the expiration date.

Local actor Lorin Ditzler will perform “Throwing Out is Hard to Do,” written by her friend, Dale Mackey. It’s a piece that has much more going on than the surface suggests.

“The monologue is about a young woman’s difficult relationship with a Thai chicken salad,” she said. “But maybe she’s not just talking about the chicken salad.”

It turns out the dish is a way for the woman to vent her feelings about the end of a tough relationship.

“My character will say such things as, ‘It wasn’t my fault the chicken had changed from what it was at the beginning,’ ” Ditzler said.

“A Piece of Cake,” playwright Lindsey Tornquist’s story about a 30-year-old woman, plays on the same theme as Ditzler’s but with a twist.

“This woman has her life together, but the one thing that’s causing her problems is a man, which is centered on a birthday cake,” she said. “It’s her little struggle over whether she should eat the birthday cake her ex-boyfriend sent her.”

Tornquist, a junior theater major at Cornell College, in Mount Vernon, said she was drawn to the theme because of the many ways people interpret food. For her monologue, the birthday cake is a symbol of love and indicates whether the character’s old boyfriend still remembers what foods she likes, Tornquist said. Given the woman’s vanilla taste — she prefers white cakes with white frosting — the ex’s task should be straightforward. But the woman is thrown for a loop when she cuts a slice and discovers it’s confetti cake.

This revelation further complicates the plot as the woman grapples with her ex-boyfriend’s intentions, but Tornquist said the monologue’s main point is the woman’s ultimate conclusion that she can be 30 years old, alone, and happy.

Although this weekend’s monologues revolve around the stomach, they typically say more about the characters presenting the stories, as is the case with Shirley King’s “Sandbags and Sandwiches,” a chronicle about an Iowa City woman who spends a day feeding volunteers meat-loaf sandwiches during last June’s floods.

“In June, I read about the [Iowa City] floods, and I was really moved and impressed with the way people worked together,” said King, a resident of Benicia, Calif. “I wanted to write a tribute to people who were so neighborly.”

Although King has never been to Iowa City, she researched the floods to get the details correct. A young mother must evacuate herself and her son from her flooded home, but before she leaves, she rescues the meat loaf pans.

“She tells her husband, ‘Mom’s meat-loaf pans are coming with, or we’re staying put,’” King said. “I write serious plays, but they all have their comic moments.”

Janet Schlapkohl also wrote her monologue “Sacrificial Turkey” about serving food, but her experience was much less successful.

Schlapkohl, a special-education teacher at City High, looked 25 years in the past to the fateful first time she hosted the holiday meal for her husband’s family.

“Ron [Clark] asked me if it was true, because it reads like a series of unfortunate events, but it really did happen,” she said, and she didn’t host an event again for 10 years.

As painful as her first attempt at cooking the holiday meal may have been, Schlapkohl said, she knows many people have an eerie familiarity with her plight.

“All people have a story, and maybe they can relate this experience to their own,” she said.

In addition to directing, Clark also wrote the piece “Rissy at the Table,” and he said the monologue form is a particularly powerful way to connect to an audience.

“It’s the most basic form of theater,” he said, noting that the Walking the Wire series got its name based on the idea that an actor alone on stage is in a precarious situation. “There’s one actor, no net, no other actor to save you if you fall.”

He is not the only person who admires monologues, given the production’s success over the past decade.

“People keep going back because they like to be told stories,” Clark said. “It’s a way we can connect with each other — it helps us find out common humanity.”


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