By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette

For 2020, seeing any sort of live performance has been limited at best. The arts and entertainment industry has been hit especially hard this year, though many performers have gotten creative in sharing their craft.

For the first time since February, the Warehouse Living Arts Center presented a new, socially distanced show this past weekend. While the theater crowds were much smaller for the limited number of performances, the laughs remained big.

Phil Olson’s The Birthday Club is a five woman show focused around a group of friends that meet on each other’s birthdays to share what’s going on with their lives.

After one of their founding members passes away, the original members Emily (Ashley Holmes), Kathy (Kati Tibbits), Cheryl (Syma Moody), and Abbie (Anna Stroder) audition a potential new recruit to their club: Sarah (Bailey Cook), a young girl from a sheltered and traditionalist religious background.

The heart of the comedy comes from the situational culture clash, though the four founding members have their own issues: Obsessions with Tinder dates and the cars they drive, emotional separations from their children, controlling natures, and low self-esteems. In contrast, Sarah has to learn how to navigate their quirky personalities, while providing an emotional heart they all find was needed.

The enjoyment from the production came from the oddball situations and fast one-liners from the cast. While the setting is reserved to their meeting room’s table, the cast made the most of the situation, playing to the crowd in several scenes, and weren’t afraid to make use of the space.

Even though Birthday Club is a primarily comedy-driven piece, the script allowed time for all the actresses to have an emotional beat. While the characters provide the comedy, their situations leave them wanting something more from their lives, and the straight moments are overall played with sincerity. The absurdity of the situations kept the laughs regular, with a handful of adult jokes thrown about.

Due to the unique and “unknown” situation of the current pandemic, Birthday Club was more of an experimental production. In what John Kaiser III, the play’s director, referred to as “Reader’s Theatre”, the setting was minimal, and the cast read from scripts during the performance. The scripts did not prove to be a distraction, and the cast used them more as props during their monologues. If anything, it was a small reminder of how strange this year has been, and how everyone has continued to improvise even outside the stage environment.

Birthday Club and the concept of a “Reader’s Theatre” is a unique idea that should be applauded for making the most out of an unknown situation. While the thought of a full audience enjoying a show is still a ways off for the time being, it’s good to know that laughter is still alive and well on the stage.

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