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Theatre Review: A Pub Trivia Contest Explodes Into War

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Donald Agnelli, Tim Cummings and Kevin Stidham in "War" -- photo by David Robertson.

Donald Agnelli, Tim Cummings and Kevin Stidham in "War" -- photo by David Robertson.
There's nothing wrong with a small cast or even a solo performer show--these forms are ideal for focusing intensely on character or theme. A large ensemble show, however, is inherently more theatrical, a trickier beast to tame. The folks at Theatre Banshee, however, have never lacked for ambition or talent, and their new production of Roddy Doyle's War (presented in repertory with John B. Keane's The Field) is a sparkling testament to the group's continuing high quality, a sixteen-actor comedy that roars with life and good humor.

When the grander issues in life aren't working out the way one wants, the smaller issues become more important. Thus it is for George (Tim Cummings), who is sublimating dissatisfactions with work and marriage into winning a pub trivia contest. Another team, headed by George's old friend Bertie (Lance Holt), has been winning consistently, and George is desperate to have his own team win for once. To this end he'll mercilessly browbeat quizmaster Denis (Andrew Leman), come to blows with Bertie's rocker teammate Noel (Daniel Kaemon), and generally rouse himself into a drunken fury, declaring war against anyone who gets between him and his tiny but much needed victory.

Cummings’ powerful performance dominates the proceedings with a combination of mate-y charisma and the ever-present threat of verbal or physical violence. He’s always compelling, and even though George can be a bully and is abusive to his wife, the audience wants him to prevail. Kacey Camp is tartly amusing and quietly affecting as said wife Briget (sic), a smart and strong woman who still has feelings for her husband but is scared of what will happen if he loses again. Leman is a sharp picture of fussy exactitude as the much abused Denis, a man who enjoys what little prestige he gets being the quizmaster but pays for it in humiliation as the contestants’ emotions flare. Dan Conroy and Erin Noble stand out amid an excellent ensemble.

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“War” is a difficult piece, a juggling act of sixteen verbose barflies who shout over each other, and director Sean Branney outdoes himself, not only keeping each role and character arc distinct but also folding all of this chaos neatly within the arc of the play’s greater plot, and staging it with great energy to boot. On top of that, Act 2 features an approximately ten-minute montage sequence with no dialogue whatsoever, and the audience is still completely clear what is going on with every character. It’s impressive. Doyle has written an entertaining and audacious work, and if the flashback format of the scenes between George and Briget don’t feel organic to the rest of the show, it’s a small flaw.

Theatre Banshee
3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank
Plays in repertory through Dec. 12
Tickets $13-18; (818) 846-5323 or