RETURN TO THE HOWARD BOWL: A HIP-HOP CARTOON IN ONE ACT, Strawdog Theatre Company, and THE BOWLING SHOW, Ouijar, at Timber Lanes Bowling Alley. "I roll a 300 game, I strike a B-boy stance," raps Adam Joyce in what he and his partner in rhyme Doug Nagel are billing as "the first hip-hop bowling musical." While Return to the Howard Bowl--the first production in Strawdog's new studio space--may not be the theatrical equivalent of ten perfect frames, it's the next best thing. Joyce and Nagel bowl strike after strike with their script, a simple parable of good and evil wrapped up in an homage to old-school rap, video games, break dancing, and bowling, among other things.
The show's cartoonish premise--that the future of bowling as an organized sport rests on the shoulders of the playwrights' alter egos, AJ Dove and Def D--is a little hard to swallow. But hip-hop is all about braggadocio, and as performers, Joyce and Nagel have the skills to back up their boasts. The pair's nimble raps--spurred on by DJ Gregor Mortis's turntable slicing and dicing--give the show the depth it needs to offset some of its lowbrow humor and arcane 80s references. Joyce and Nagel make the unlikely combination of hip-hop and bowling seem a marriage every bit as satisfying as peanut butter and chocolate.
Meanwhile The Bowling Show, the half-scripted, half-improvised interactive comedy that wowed audiences at Timber Lanes last summer, is being remounted. Unfortunately this slightly retooled version has more valleys than peaks. Ouijar has cut the show by nearly a third, mostly by shortening the gimmick-filled game of bowling, but the pacing seems more languid. Most of last year's crack ensemble have been replaced, and while the vets--especially Lynn Vacarro and Brad Grant--remain sharp, many of the new cast members aren't up to their predecessors' standards: they seem ill at ease, and their interactions with the audience suffer as a result. --Nick Green