Self-serve theater

For something so relatively new, it’s surprising how quickly the public has tired of reality television. In fact, people may find themselves immediately suspicious at so much as finding the word “reality” in a title.

But don’t let any contemporary associations with the word cast a negative light on the theater troupe Motoprism’s production, The Reality Buffet. No, this smorgasbord of theater doesn’t offer the kind of over-the-top drama and outlandish situations found in Nielsen-faves like Wife Swap or The Bachelor; but instead focus on the emotion and authenticity that is present in each individual’s experience. The Reality Buffet is about as close to real life as entertainment can get.

The production is a series of two- to three-minute-long autobiographical plays written and performed by the Motoprism cast. The plays — ranging from skits, monologues and songs — are performed at random, as audience members call out which one they would like to see next. After every show, a certain number of the 25-30 plays are retired and new ones are added. This means an entirely new show is produced every six to 10 weeks.

Founding artistic director Mark Mikula was inspired to create The Reality Buffet after watching a similar performance by The Neo-Futurists, an acting troupe from Chicago. Affected by the honesty of the personal stories the plays portrayed, he invited eight local actors who would be willing to share their lives on stage to join the project.

“We gain an advantage in telling our own stories,” Mikula says. “It’s our creative energy that makes the show personally affecting.”

The honesty of the plays is a large part of the show’s appeal. The ability to perform a skit about the embarrassment of buying a dildo, for example, takes a lot of balls (no pun intended), and it’s moments like these — when cast members unabashedly display what the rest of the world would keep hidden — that make the show particularly endearing.

Not all the plays recount embarrassing trips to the porno shop, though. Comedic vignettes such as “Pi,” a musical tribute to the mathematical term, offer some lighthearted moments, while foregrounding the originality of the production.

The show’s unusual format offers advantages and risks. Of the 25-30 plays, there are bound to be some that are better than others. A few of the plays fail at coming across as anything more than anecdotal, but in the range of topics — from the search for love to the idiocy of the pharmaceutical industry — there’s bound to be at least one play that strikes a chord with audience members.

In fact, what’s best about The Reality Buffet is how much the cast members speak to the audience. They encourage laughter and sympathetic nods — and above all, hope that they will be able to relate some emotional truth.

According to cast member Mark Soboloewski, this is what influenced him to join Motoprism.

“The thing that impressed me most was that it was so accessible to the audience,” Soboloewski says. “A lot of theater is not accessible to the everyday person; this is theater for the masses, but it’s not watered down at all.”

Aiding this accessibility are earnest and enthusiastic players who may wear their hearts on their sleeves, but do so with a balancing dose of self-deprecating humor. The commitment these performers have to The Reality Buffet is palpable.

The cast matches its enthusiasm with spontaneity and flexibility, which allows the ensemble to gracefully handle forgotten lines as well as the unpredictability that comes along with the audience participation — which is required in many of the plays. This gives the performance the feel of improv — and most of the cast is experienced (or still working) in improv — but Mikula and the cast emphasize fact that The Reality Buffet is not improvised.

“We want an audience who will appreciate that we are speaking without the veil of characters,” Mikula says. “We play enough cowboys and pirates and flight attendants on the improv stage. Something we want to foreground strongly is that these are our points of views coming across. That’s what distinguished us."


Every Sunday at 8 p.m. at the Matrix Theatre, 2730 Bagley in Detroit. 313-967-0999 for tickets.

Megan O'Neil is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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