Ten Thousand Things' Park and Lake is a collaboration between its cast, who devised comedic characters, and playwright Kira Obolensky, who crafted a script about a crisis at a car wash.
There are a lot of different ways to combine devised and scripted elements onstage, but somehow Park and Lake unites the worst of both worlds in a rare dud from what's ordinarily one of Minnesota's most compelling companies.
Seven of the eight actors play dual roles, resulting in a cast of 15 onstage characters for this energetically grumpy saga about a car wash called Park and Lake — not the actual Park and Lake Car Wash in Minneapolis, but a fictional establishment full of outsize characters nurturing their own individual fantasies of doing something other than washing cars, or maybe just doing something in addition to washing cars.
Park and Lake is run by a blithely cheerful guy named Manny (Eric "Pogi" Sumangil), who's resented by his staff for reasons that include but are not limited to making them dress in duck masks to stand in the rain and advertise cleaning specials. Manny's entertaining a purchase offer from a growing car wash chain, and his employees resolve to raise the cash to buy the place themselves.
Before the fundraising efforts begin, though, we spend dozens of tedious minutes getting to know these kooky characters and their pointlessly convoluted interrelationships.
Greeken (Stephen Cartmell) is a longtime employee who's being haunted by the ghost of the octopus mascot that used to be mounted above the car wash (a nod to the defunct Octopus Car Wash chain). J. (H. Adam Harris) is an intellectual who argues for the necessity of more equitable labor arrangements. Lolly (George Keller) has leadership potential, but she's trapped in a dead-end affair with Manny.
Teela (Thomasina Petrus) is an aspiring singer who hopes that charismatic customer Richie (Harris) will whisk her away. Pony Boy (Karen Wiese-Thompson) wants to lead her most awesome life, but she's being manipulated by her twin sister (also Weise-Thompson), a nurse who steals placentas from the hospital and fences them to placenta-eating health nuts in the car wash parking lot.
That's just the tip of the iceberg in a play so stuffed with personalities, it makes Robert Altman look like Samuel Beckett. Instead of blossoming in comic profusion, though, the overstuffed setup leads to a diffuse and meandering plot. Actors are constantly having to stuff exposition in alongside their clowning, but the abundant subplots don't have payoffs: They just leave a lot of loose strings to get tied up in a chaotically optimistic finale.
Michelle Hensley co-directs with Luverne Seifert, who also adopts an abashed brogue to play simple soul Dale Selby. The caliber of the talent involved ensures that the show never completely falls on its face, but the artists really haven't given themselves much to work with in this half-baked production — staged lights-up and in-the-round, as per the company's norm.
The bottom line is that, for all its scattershot setups, this comedy just isn't very funny. The biggest laughs on Saturday night came during a scene where the characters trade jokes, testament to the value of going back to the basics. In this case, that should have meant going back to the drawing board.