photo by  Scoundrel & Scamp
Matt Walley creates the woeful stage character Oaf.

Here we are in the middle of 2018, in the middle of the digital special effects revolution on screens big and small, where outer space meets grueling gore and superheroes have superpower talents equal to any task.

But here we also find Matt Walley on stage at the Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre alone with a handful of old school stage props and two clanking wheelbarrows full of miscellaneous house keys, car keys, desk keys and probably the key to your heart. The one you lost Lord knows how many years ago.

That's the kind of fanciful imagination Walley creates in his theatrical character known only as Oaf, a baggy pants kind of clown without makeup, wearing a jumpsuit of horizontal prison-looking stripes.

Clearly this fellow is a prisoner of circumstance, for sure. He comes on stage with a metal bar wrapped around his waist and a big lock dangling from the front of it. As he moves through his hour-long non-stop act there will be a lot of locks and elaborate struggles to finally break free.

But not nearly as many locks as there are keys lying around. Only...that's a part of life, too, isn't it? So many keys promising release, but none of them actually working.

Instead of technology, Walley is employing psychology. The kind that's been honed over the centuries by village entertainers silently playing bums and kings of every description in town squares of all sizes long before electricity was invented,

A brilliant stroke in Walley's act is introducing this character on an empty stage and then discovering that Walley is actually backstage at a circus freak show and his character is the freak.

At the most awkward moments in his struggles with all those keys, locks, chains and such, a curtain is lifted at the back of the stage and we see the front of a circus freak show stage where another audience gawks for a few moments while Walley is forced to pretend he is a raging wild man-beast.

It's all so demeaning, doubling down on the sympathy Walley creates fumbling through his struggles to finally get loose from his insidious bonds. Only to be forced into more humiliating work demanded by management.

Just watching him will become an easy leap to see the endless frustrations in your own daily life, spilling the breakfast coffee, getting stopped by all the traffic lights on the way to work, then having the office computer crash just when that big report is due – the one that you were supposed to have finished yesterday.

Walley does it all using no dialogue whatsoever, letting his body language and facial expressions tell the tale in ways that are universally understood.

Serving as director and co-creator is Wolfe Bowart, who has an international reputation as physical theater playwright and performer helping keep this timeless facet of entertainment alive. Bowart and Walley are Scoundrel & Scamp artists-in-residence

“Oaf” continues through June 3, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, at the Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre in the Historic Y, 738 N. Fifth Ave.

Tickets are $22 general admission, $20 for age 10-29, $15 teachers and students with valid ID, $12 children 9 and under. Questions? Call the box office, 448-3300. For details and reservations, Scounddscamp.org/oaf


photo by Ryan Fagan

Lesley Abrams (front) and Carlisle Ellis in "Miss Witherspoon."

If you're feeling exhausted by endless waves of wacky news on the telly (and who isn't?) hie thee to Live Theatre Workshop for 90 nonstop minutes of wacky laughs in Christopher Durang's “Miss Witherspoon” directed with vigor by Sabian Trout.

After the playwright enjoyed decades of earlier success with such eccentric theater pieces as “The Marriage of Bette and Boo,” “Sister Mary Ignatius explains It All For You," "Beyond Therapy" and “Baby With the Bathwater,” Durang wraps us in a distillation of his best material in this fancifully metaphorical work (staged off-Broadway in December 2005) which LTW has delightfully placed on a bare stage and backdrop painted with fluffy blue clouds. (While you are waiting for the play to begin, there will be extra fun studying the cloud shapes painted by Karin Hupp).

“Miss Witherspoon” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2006, although no prize would be awarded that year. Time Magazine and Newsday called "Miss Witherspoon" one of the 10 best plays of 2005.

This lineage is important to keep in mind because after awhile the dialogue starts to feel like the Best of Blenderized Durang. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

As we all know, Durang was permanently warped by his Catholic upbringing. But here he does give the Jewish religion a role of equal importance.

The Buddhists also have a comforting part to play as the Mental Balancers, telling Miss Witherspoon she must continue cycling through many rounds of reincarnation to purify her aura, which they describe as being reminiscent of brown tweed. (Somehow it always seems like damp brown tweed, but I've probably seen too many British detective films set in foggy London).

Nevertheless imagine this, a woman (Leslie Abrams) who seems to have already lived several interesting lives, including being married to Rex Harrison, is standing alone on the cloud-covered stage at LTW when she is struck dead by a falling piece of debris from the abandoned and disintegrating Skylab satellite as it re-enters Earth's atmosphere. (We never see this, we just hear about it)

Having to die because the sky is falling does not sit well with her even though she is, by her own admission, terminally depressed and unable to control a constant stream of angry complaints about most everything.

Soon enough she is joined in this kind of waystation in the clouds known as Bardo by the determinedly polite Maryamma (Carlisle Ellis with a vaguely Indian accent) who patiently explains the rules of reincarnation and its necessity. Maryamma also tells this woman that all the other spirits – they are sort of like the administrators of reincarnation – refer to her as Miss Witherspoon because she is so cranky and crotchety.

Maryamma also introduces each new scene, as Miss Witherspoon is forced to become a baby in its crib, later an upset teenager and then several other roles loosely connected to demonstrate many of the cruelties in modern life that come to people who misbehave.

Always over-exaggerated and pretty funny, we get caught up in the gems of truth contained in the silliness and absurdity of Durang's dialogue.

He is only too happy to take aim at all of society's Sacred Cows he can think of, while cast members Bree Boyd, Carley Elizabeth Preston (whose costumes include a marvelous all-white cowgirl outfit) and Drew Kallen-Keck play a variety of short roles supporting whatever reincarnation challenge Miss Witherspoon gets thrust into by Maryamma's spiritual associates.

The show continues through June 9 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, at Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E. Speedway Blvd. Tickets are $20 general admission, with discounts available. For details and reservations, 327-4242, or visit livetheatreworkshop.org