I’m so lucky to have discovered and been hosted at the Broom Street Theater in Madison for the opening night of “Happy Landings”, a hilarious ode to Shakespearean comedy written by a member of the Madison community.
Located on Willy Street and just over half the isthmus – nowhere near Broom Street – Broom Street Theater is the oldest continuously operating experimental theater in the country. The theater is a wonderful little treasure hidden behind a few houses.
I showed my vaccination card before heading to the box office table. After collecting my ticket, I turned around to see a set of bleachers. There were two rows of six seats on either side of a staircase with a bench in the third row. So no need to do the math, that’s about thirty places.
In front of me was the stage, not elevated. There was no curtain. The box office table then rolled back. That was it, and that’s all it took.
A woman has come forward to give a brief history of the theatre, stating that it started in 1969 and then found a home in its current location in 1977. Wikipedia states that the theater was never on Broom Street. She then passed around a basket. Since the start of the pandemic, the theater has operated on a pay-per-view basis. After that, she pointed to a box near the door that served as a tip jar for the all-volunteer dispensing.
With a reminder not to interact with the eight cast members as they walked up and down stage, the show began.
“Happy Landings” follows Floyd Tucker, a writer for a publishing company for which the show is named. His job is to edit literary classics for happy endings. The show occasionally takes breaks to play these comedic alterations — like Beth of Little Women recovering from illness and becoming a pianist or Romeo and Juliet faking their deaths and living happily ever after.
While his co-workers, recently married to Mickey Reynolds and Belinda Rapp – who have decided to cut their names – are perfectly content to be hacks, Floyd yearns for more. He wants to be a great writer like those whose works he adjusts so that they are less tragic.
Unfortunately, his handwriting is poor. “I forked the Jell-O that rippled like a freshly plucked bowstring,” is one of the many ghastly humorous lines in his book that editors mock. Tucker reads the editors’ equally hilarious harsh responses before concocting a scheme to fake his death in order to get his book published.
Claiming to be his fictional brother John, who has taken a solemn vow never to read, Tucker delivers the short story to a publisher. He provides her with another copy of the manuscript, as well as a diary filled with romantic letters addressed to her “darling”. While believing him dead, the editor-in-chief of the publication falls in love with him through her diary.
The poster states that “Happy Landings” writer Pamela Monk, who sat directly across from me, ultimately wishes “to be like Shakespeare, dead for 400 years and produced everywhere.”
This inspiration is palpable. The ridiculousness of the basic concept as well as the silliness of the one-line and recurring jokes are reminiscent of Shakespeare’s sense of humor.
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The actors were all amazing. Their passion came through when they created fully believable characters. They’re the reason the theater has a budget of only $500 for props for each of its shows.
I was sitting in a shed in Willy Street; props were a few desks, a couch, a table with two chairs, and a bleacher, but I was transported to offices, restaurants, and scenes from the required texts from my English class.
I went to “Happy Landings” expecting a lovely performance of local theater from passionate artists, but was left awestruck by the talent of those in my town. it is a special place.
If you’re in Madison June 3-June 25 or August 12-August 27 and looking for something to do on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night at 8 p.m., head to the Broom Street Theater – located on Willy Street – for Madison art at its finest.
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Jeffrey Brown is an arts editor for the Daily Cardinal. He also writes for Beetroot.