I am so very fortunate to have both learned about and been welcomed to Madison’s own Broom Street Theater for opening night of “Happy Landings,” a hilarious and original ode to Shakespearean comedy.
Located on Willy Street and a little more than halfway up the isthmus — nowhere near Broom Street — Broom Street Theater is the oldest continuously operating experimental theater in the country. The theater is a beautiful, tiny little treasure tucked behind a couple houses.
I showed my vaccine card before heading inside 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 set of stairs with a bench on the third row. So you don’t have to do the math, that’s around thirty seats.
In front of me was the stage, not elevated. There was no curtain. The box office table then rolled away into the back. This was it, and that’s all it needed.
A woman stepped forward to give a brief history of the theater, stating that it started in 1969 then found a home in its current location in 1977. Wikipedia states the theater has never been on Broom Street. She then passed around a basket. The theater has operated on a pay-what-you-can basis since the beginning of the pandemic. After that, she pointed to a box by the door that served as a tip jar for the entirely volunteer cast.
With a reminder not to interact with the eight cast members as they moved on and off 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 literature classics to have happy endings. The show occasionally takes intermissions to act out these comical alterations — such as Beth of Little Women recovering from illness and becoming a pianist or Romeo and Juliet both faking their deaths and living happily ever after.
While his coworkers, recently wed Mickey Reynolds and Belinda Rapp — who decided to hyphenate their names — are perfectly content being hacks, Floyd yearns for more. He wants to be a great writer like those whose works he adjusts to be less tragic.
Unfortunately, his writing is bad. “I forked the Jell-O which waved like a newly plucked bowstring,” is one of the many humorously dreadful lines from his book that the publishers scoff at. Tucker reads out the equally hilarious harsh responses from publishers before concocting a scheme to fake his death so his book will be published.
Claiming to be his fictional brother John, who has taken a solemn vow to never read, Tucker delivers the news to a publisher. He provides her with another copy of the manuscript, along with a diary filled with romantic letters to his “dearest.” While believing him to be deceased, the editor-in-chief of the publication falls in love with him through his diary.
The playbill states that “Happy Landings” writer Pamela Monk, who was sitting directly in front of me, ultimately wishes “to be like Shakespeare, dead 400 years and produced everywhere.”
This inspiration is palpable. The ridiculousness of the core concept as well as the silliness of both the one-line and recurring jokes are reminiscent of Shakespeare’s sense of humor.
The actors were all unbelievable. Their passion shone through as they created entirely believable characters. They are the reason the theater has a budget of just $500 for the props of each of its shows.
I was sitting in a shed on Willy Street; the props were a couple desks, a couch, a table with two chairs and a bleacher, yet I was transported to offices, restaurants and scenes from my English course’s required texts.
I went into “Happy Landings” expecting a cute local theater performance from passionate artists but left amazed at the talent of those in my city. This is a special place.
If you are in Madison from June 3 to June 25 or August 12 to August 27 and looking for something to do on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night at 8 p.m., head over to Broom Street Theater — located on Willy Street — for Madison arts at its very best.
Jeffrey Brown is an Arts Editor for the Daily Cardinal. He also writes for the Beet.