Not your father’s dinner theater

Seeing plays and getting thirsty at Joe’s Garage

by Tatum Fjerstad

God enjoyed a cocktail at Joe’s Garage in Minneapolis last week. He brought a small gong and explained the mysteries of life, all while sipping his drink.

Every Monday, the restaurant and bar attracts similarly famous and often funny folks. Sometimes they’re cowboys wearing eye patches. Sometimes they’re incessant sneezers. But each week, the crowd commands attention ” because they’re performing plays.

Some of the Twin Cities’ freshest and most famous actors and playwrights perform five short plays in two hours called “Thirst.” Appropriately, all the plays’ plots take place in a bar.

There is no stage; actors hang out at tables during breaks between the 10-minute plays. Fading bar music ” and actors’ loud voices ” hint to the audiences that another show will start. Actors occasionally interact with audience members but keep from being awkward or cheesy.

Playwrights compose each play specifically for “Thirst,” and actors have only two rehearsals to learn their parts. Each Monday features five new plays, so it can easily become a Monday night tradition ” a sure cure for a miserable case of the Mondays.

The majority of the vignettes poke fun at awkward social situations, but others touch on heavier material. “The Call” by Stacey Parshall tells of a woman upset about her husband molesting children, including her own.

“We aren’t just doing this for the entertainment factor,” said Tracey Maloney, actor and co-founder. “A few people have walked out and complained because of the subject matter. We aren’t happy they left, but it’s great that it’s reaching people like that.”

January marked the second season of “Thirst.” Two actors and a playwright conceived the idea last year and had to recruit actors. This year, theater-types are lining up to join in.

“Last year we were flying by the seat of our pants, running into problems and trying to fix them,” Maloney said. “This year, we’re definitely more prepared.”

Last year the evening took place on both floors, but the bar was too noisy. Now they perform upstairs only.

When audience members have too much to drink, a little fun can turn into a little trouble.

“You have to know how to use it,” said Amy McDonald, Twin Cities actor and “Thirst” veteran. “If (drunk patrons) become an obstacle, you have to know how to put them on the spot so they shut up.”

Alcohol helps keep the shows from having a dinner theater feel. But the people who show up to the show are in their late 20s and older. Founders said the play is accessible for all ages, including college students.

“You can see theater for basically the same price as a movie,” co-founder Alan Berks said. “Plus we seat strangers next to each other so you might meet the love of your life. But no guarantees on that.”