Sweet Jay’s Roadhouse Now Open
by Shirley Lorraine
Tucked away in an industrial area of Ventura is a Speakeasy. The Speakeasy Project: American Roadhouse, that is. Billed as an underground evening of new comedies and live music, the interactive roadhouse atmosphere is provided by the Fractured Actors Theater Company.
New name on the community theater scene? It was to me although this is their second Speakeasy Project and other productions have been mounted.
Apparently, others were already in the know however, as most of the tables in Sweet Jay’s Roadhouse were already filled when I arrived. Libations were available, both complimentary and for purchase, and the place was already jumping.
The evening featured Sumter Skaggs and the Screamin’ Armadillos, a versatile band churning out country, rock and blues classics. A standout vocalist was Stella Ruby Rose (Shelby Figueroa) who not only belted out the tunes, she also played piano and guitar accompaniment.
The evening was a mixture of original one-acts plays depicting snapshots of American Life written by FATC’s producers, Jeff Ham and Shannon McNally Ham, and boot-scootin’ music from the band.
Stage crew deftly changed the minimal settings while the audience was enjoying the musical interludes. A large cast of actors assumed various roles in the one-acts, performing with enthusiasm. The Fractured Actors website decrees family friendly, but I would caution those with an aversion to cuss words (both in scripts and songs) to leave the kids at home. The one-acts, in my opinion, were placeholders for the music. Scripts were complicated and filled with what seemed to be comments on life while dancing around the subjects. Maybe it was just me, but I felt some interpretation was required. At least one act seemed unresolved to me.
A few of the actors were difficult to hear with soft, unamplified voices in stark contrast to the interim amplification of the musicians. For me, it was like when you’re watching TV and must turn the sound up but then the commercial comes on and you’re blasted with volume.
However, a few performers stood out with excellent diction, projection and confidence. Hudson Ham, the youngest of the group, shows promise. He was composed, articulate and had excellent timing.
Anthony Contreras and Benjamin Wilson each stood out in several one-acts as did the trio of Jeff Ham, Michael Lie Murphy and Karyn Noel in the second play titled Animal Behavior.
Overall though, the entire evening was different, enjoyable and lively. Although the black box theater utilizes space in the Ventura Vineyard Church on Palma Drive, the theater company is fully independent of the church, hence their hashtag #NotAChurchPlay.
The entrance is around the back, as a Speakeasy should be – through an unmarked door. However, the bouncer will check for your name on the list so be sure to reserve tickets/seats early. Seating is limited and the tables fill up fast.
This end-of-summer special engagement is a limited run ending August 31. It is a non-smoking venue, wheelchair accessible (mention the need when you make your reservation). Go and have fun.