Who would have guessed that Mike Schatz would emerge as the Spalding Gray of Dad's Garage Theatre?
As a member of the Inman Park playhouse's ensemble of improvisers, Schatz comes across as a big, laid-back guy with five o'clock shadow. It seemed like typecasting when he played the Shakespearean equivalent to the mellow Jeff Bridges role in Two Gentlemen of Lebowski. However, as he reveals in his funny, uncomfortably personal shows, VIP Room from 2011 and now Apnea, Schatz wrestles with all kinds of worries, compulsions and physical ailments.
While the semiautobiographical VIP Room cast Schatz alongside another actor, it maintained the shape and introspective detail of a monologue. Apnea, directed by Dan Triandiflou, presents Schatz's first solo show, although thanks to some imaginative use of video clips, he works with a supporting cast of taunting cartoon characters and moms in meltdown.
Inspired by Schatz's real struggles with the nightly interruptions of sleep apnea, the play finds "Mike" at a sleep clinic, initially wearing a veil of wires and sensors on his face. His nervous chatter with the unseen, Freudian-accented doctor turns to personal stories he shares directly to the audience. Schatz has an innately ingratiating demeanor as he relates self-deprecating anecdotes. On opening night, he mentioned how easily social media and pornography distract him, and when he mused, "If there was a porno site with Words with Friends..." laughter made the rest of the line unnecessary.
In VIP Room Schatz dug extensively into his attraction to other women despite his devotion to his wife. Parts of Apnea flip the script, addressing his concerns of sexual inadequacy and fears that his wife will leave him. At one point he muses about being a fireman for a career, and the video projects an image of a manly firefighter. Then he goes off on a tangent about randy firemen seducing his wife as the video splits into more and more images. Overall, the video provides nice punctuation for jokes or interstitial gags between scenes, but doesn't dig as deeply into dream symbolism as you'd expect.
Apnea touches on Schatz's childhood memories and present-day neuroses, but returns to a through line involving his father, a former CNN anchorman. At one point, he mentions being out of college at the same time his dad loses his anchor job, and that for a while they lived at the same halfway house. He segues to a funny anecdote about them working at the same mall luggage store, but you want to ask, "Wait, back up: What happened to your dad's job? Or your parents' marriage?" Apnea shows how Schatz first perceived his father as a boyhood icon who gradually became a flawed, life-sized man, just as the author now grapples with his own troubles with adult responsibilities as a father of two girls. It's a thoughtful, moving theme that could use even more exploration.
Apnea's world premiere production serves as the final show in the Dad's Garage Top Shelf space, as the theater will relocate from his 18 year-home later this summer. Schatz's play proves to be a surprisingly appropriate send-off, given the theater's fondness for youthful exuberance. Apnea includes the jokes and wild creativity that Dad's audience has come to expect, but with a greater maturity of purpose. Schatz's play suggests that you can enjoy pleasant dreams when you find them, as long as you take care of business in your waking life.