PICTURED: Time and Again, from left: Greg Howland, Kathleen Green, Susan Howland, Benjamin Wilson, Ben Downing, Ariana Guerrero, Jennifer Hermann and Shannon McNally Ham. Lying down: Anthony Contreras. Photo courtesy of Fractured Actors
From the street it looks like any other industrial building, but go around back and there’s a door to another place and time. Welcome to Sweet Jay’s Roadhouse, otherwise known as the second annual Speakeasy Project presented by the Fractured Actors Theater Company. This year, the Suite J Theater is decked out like an American roadhouse — a honky-tonk complete with old time photos, vinyl records and the tailgate of a Ford pickup on the wall. It may be housed under the roof of the Ventura Vineyard but make no mistake: This is no church play. It’s an evening of new one-act comedies by Jeff Hamm and Shannon McNally Ham and live country, rock and blues, courtesy of Sumter Skaggs and the Screamin’ Armadillos.
The one-acts are billed as “snapshots of modern American life” that weave “tales of part-time superheroes, family turf wars, hungry lions and the world’s most awkward baby shower.”
All Tomorrow’s Parties, written and directed by Shannon McNally Ham, introduces us to a family on the verge of a breakdown as they plan an event fraught with the possibility of disaster or, at the very least, bad catering. The cast includes Becky Andrade, Ken Brookes, Erica Connell, Anthony Contreras, Kat Green (understudy), Hudson Ham, Meredith Newcom, Kelsey Owen, Janelle Phaneuf and Benjamin Wilson.
Michael Lie Murphy and Karyn Noel enter a lion’s den of trouble in Animal Behavior, as they seek couples counseling from a frazzled therapist, played by Jeff Ham. Ham also penned the sketch, which was directed by Erica Connell.
In Welcome Home, written by Shannon McNally Ham and directed by Jeff Ham, Janelle Phaneuf and Brad Wilson play new parents desperate to do everything right. Erica Connell, Gwen Field, Amanda Flores and Ariana Guerrero play friends and relations who are quick to assure them they are not. Rosemary Molloy plays Grandma, who adds a sweet, otherworldly dimension to this contemplation of modern motherhood.
Time and Again, written by Jeff Ham and directed by Bryan White, revolves around a boy (Hudson Ham) and a man (Greg Howland) who compare life stories. A large cast brings the memories, ranging from a superhero farce to a portrait of a breakup, to life. Standouts include Anthony Contreras as the announcer and a musical performance by Janelle Phaneuf.
Helping to set the scenes are musical director James Dorward, set designer and properties master Kat Green, design consultant Karyn Noel, technical director Adam Figueroa, lighting designer Aaron Silvey, lighting technician Emily Heulitt, sound technician Sean Hausken and carpenter Ben Downing.
Wrapped around the one-acts are terrific performances by the band, featuring outstanding vocalists Stella Ruby Rose (Shelby Figueroa), Ridge Skaggs (Chris Gwaltney) and Celeste Boudreaux (Ashley Gwaltney). Estrella (Ariana Guerrero) performs a ballad as a video compilation plays, making for a compelling moment. Mixing music and comedy are Bubba Bo Bob Skaggs (Dean McCarty) and Virgil and Willadeen (Jeff Ham and Shannon McNally Ham), who sing such hoots as “100 Dollar Car” and “You’re the Reason Our Kids are Ugly.” Fake personas aside, the musicians are the real deal.
An evening at Sweet Jay’s makes you feel as though you’ve landed in a bonafide roadhouse on a country highway. It just happens to be the 101.
The Speakeasy Project: American Roadhouse through August 31 at the Suite J Theater at Ventura Vineyard, 1956 Palma Drive, Ventura. For more information call 805-232-4590 or visit fracturedactors.com.