Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Sometimes There's Wine
Park Square Theatre
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of The Agitators, The Visit, and Frankenstein - Playing with Fire


Shanan Custer and Carolyn Pool
Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma
How lucky are we in the Twin Cities that Shanan Custer and Carolyn Pool became fast friends? When these two actors, each with her own impressive list of theater credits, get together, a wonderful thing happens: they create whip-smart, hilariously funny comedy sketches that capture the zeitgeist of life today, particularly from a woman's perspective. Their first co-creation, Two Sugars, Room for Cream appeared in numerous venues, sending waves of laughter up and down the aisles. Their follow up work, titled Sometimes There's Wine came to life at the 2016 MN Fringe Festival, and has been expanded to a full-length, two-act show that is now prompting laughter on Park Square's Andy Boss Stage.

With Sometimes There's Wine comedy reigns once again, but these sketches, several of which follow recurring stories over the course of the evening (or matinee), also convey the sting of truth and, after the laughter subsides, leave one with empathy for the plight of a wine and cocktail bar server besieged by all manner of annoyingly demanding patrons, or a woman whose body has announced in a variety of ways "you're no longer young, baby," or a lonely woman trying to connect with the other moms at her child's school through a book club, only to be the target of their catty insults.

There is a touching piece in which an outcast daughter named Rosalyn (Pool) tries to see herself in the innocence of her eleven-year-old niece Paige (Custer), seated at the children's table for the family Christmas dinner. Most moving, and also true to life, are recurring scenes of two sisters at their brother's wedding, living out the roles family dynamics have ascribed to them: Custer is the in-control, always organized people pleaser, Pool is the goof-off who inevitably lets the family down, and resents them for expecting it of her. These sisters know each other to the bone, and can flail the awful truth about with ease, but they also know there is an unbreakable bond of love between them.

In another sketch, Pool is a patient seeing her doctor, Custer, with a litany of ailments that he proclaims to be a case of "The Reckoning," an affliction that strikes women in their mid-forties, unless they are obnoxiously cosseted celebrities (a couple of well-known names are dragged through the mill). It is hilarious, and doesn't miss the opportunity to take jabs at a health care system that serves the desires of men more readily than the needs of women.

As performers, both Pool and Custer are delightful. The sketch-comedy feel of Sometimes There's Wine allows them to exaggerate their characters a bit, especially when spinning into a tirade, but they each bring a knowing awareness of the inner life of even these summarily formed characters, so that we are seeing real people, and not mere types, on stage. It is hard to pull that off in a show of this nature, but Shanan Custer and Carolyn Pool can do it. It is the reason the show leaves us feeling, not only "That was so, so funny," but also "those women are so, so real."

Director Angela Timberman herself excels at playing roles that read as comic with a heart of darkness (Annapurna, Detroit, The Realistic Joneses), and she uses her own gifts to let these two actors roll fast and wide with their sharp, loopy material, while keeping them from going off the rails or overdoing a winning bit to the point of milking it dry. The set designed by Sadie Ward is stunningly wine-centric, with a pair of handsome wooden wine shelves, well stocked stretching floor to ceiling on either side of the thrust stage's rear wall. Between them are columns made of wine bottles, hung cork to bottom, and brightly illuminated with white lights. The effect is of a bead curtain, only using wine bottles instead of beads. Other than that, a couple of bistro tables and chairs, a rolling cart that can provide liquor service or be a nurse's station are enough to create the show's varied settings.

Two cautions about Sometimes There's Wine. First, the play could be more accurately titled "There's Always Wine." In almost every sketch, drinking—usually, but not always wine—is a release sought with glee by the stressed out, lonely, overworked, or otherwise untethered women depicted on stage. In the doctor-visit sketch sited above, while making her diagnosis the doctor asks Pool if she adheres to the guideline of five units (e.g., glasses) of alcohol per week. Pool responds as if she is being told to cut off a bit of a toe or finger each week, that the proposition is absurd. Well, I don't know whether the five unit guideline has medical merit or not, and what about studies that say a glass of wine daily is a boon to health? Nonetheless, the running theme of the show is that life is hard and disappointing in so many ways, and thank God there is wine to get us through it. But some of these ladies drink a lot, and there is never a hint of concern about, oh, alcoholism. Yes, yes, the show is a comedy with wine as its running gag. No one is really saying that unfettered drinking is a good idea. Still, if you or someone close to has struggled over drinking (as many have), be forewarned about what you will encounter, and whether or not you think it will strike your funny bone as it did mine.

The other caution, as the creators of this material, Pool and Custer, are greatly talented, but the range of life captured by their wit is limited to middle-income white women, generally 30 to menopause, striving to live up to, or at least to cope with, the expectations of family, society, social media, employers, customers, and un-woke male politicians. That is not to say that only those depicted on the stage will enjoy Sometimes There's Wine. I myself am male and, were I a female, would surely be post-menopausal, and I laughed my head off. Just know what the show offers and come prepared to enjoy it on that basis.

All that being said, the main idea is that Sometimes There's Wine is a very funny, very smart collection of sketches, created and performed by two masters of the form. It will leave you laughing, but also leave a residue of tenderness toward these women and the roadblocks they encounter just wanting to be themselves. The show has been extended by a week at Park Square, so you might try to catch it now. If not, hopefully, it will enjoy repeat showings at one of our stages, as Two Sugars, Room for Cream. And get ready: the program promises that before long, Custer and Pool will be back with Bad Things, Good Whiskey.

Sometimes There's Wine through October 21, 2018, at Park Square Theatre's Boss Stage. 20 West Seventh Place, Saint Paul MN. Tickets: $25.00 - $60.00. Age 30 and under, $21.00 for standard seats; seniors (Age 62+): $5.00 discount; ASL/AD Patrons: 12 off you and one guest; military: $10.00 discount; rush tickets: $24.00 one hour before performance, if available – cash only. For tickets call 651-291-7005 or go to parksquaretheatre.org.

Created and Written by: Shanan Custer and Carolyn Pool; Director: Angela Timberman; Set Design: Sadie Ward; Lighting Design: Michael P. Kittel; Sound Design: Eric Webster; Stage Manager: Megan Fae Dougherty; Assistant Stage Manager: Kyla Moloney

Cast: Shanan Custer and Carolyn Pool


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