Good-bye, Mr. Papatola, good-bye

Scenes from “Bring Me the Roast of Dominic Papatola” from Matthew Foster on Vimeo.

Last night the Jungle Theater played host to some of the finest comedy seen on a Twin Cities stage in recent months. And for many local theater professionals, it was payback time.

The event in question was a “roast” for departing St. Paul Pioneer Press theater critic Dominic Papatola, who, after a life in journalism, is switching career tracks (he’s taking a job as a program manager with the Otto Bremer Foundation).

Papatola was forced given a seat at a table on the stage, while turn by turn, local actors, directors, writers, and even fellow critics took to the podium to launch insults, jokes, memories, and even once in a while, a compliment. It was a topsy turvy evening in which critics acted and actors criticized, with belly laughs and groans throughout.

At the start of the evening Jungle Artistic Director Bain Boehlke said he decorated the stage with large bouquets of flowers because “it could be festive, or it could signify a funeral – and the evening could go either way.”

Multi-talented theater men Joseph Scrimshaw and Zach Curtis hosted the evening. As Scrimshaw said “our roast will be, we hope, like Papatola’s reviews: heartfelt, thoughtful, passionate and sometimes pointlessly cruel.”

Actor Steve Sweere declared to Papatola, “you’re my own personal stalker – with a column” (I would love to quote other parts of Sweere’s roast, but it was so obscene I’d likely be fired).

Comedienne Shanan Wexler declared it “the best night of my life!” and then proceeded to take on all of the newspaper reviewers:

“What’s with the names of our critics? Graydon Royce, Rohan Preston, Quinton Skinner – it’s like the B-List of Lord of the Rings characters! And Dominic Papatola – he’s the man who had the ring of power just a little too long…”

Wexler ended her roast saying that while Papatola is moving to a career in philanthropy and pursuing a masters in theology, “none of that’s going to make up for the pain you caused. James 4:11!” (That’s a biblical reference: “Brothers do not criticize one another.”)

Comedian Ari Hoptman, not finding anything positive to say about Papatola, instead chose to use his time to praise film critic Colin Covert.

Perhaps the most surprising bit of comedy came from Star Tribune critic Graydon Royce, who delivered a dead-pan performance. Royce searched his pockets for a giftcard he planned to give Papatola for a pair of prescription glasses, “because even after all those years of looking over my shoulder you never did get it right.”

Sitting in the audience, I did a quick survey of the folks around me about what they would miss most – and least – about Dominic Papatola.

Nimbus theater director Josh Cragun: “What I’ll miss most? His often hilarious critiques of other people’s shows. Miss least? His often hilarious critiques of my shows.”

Children’s Theater Company Artistic Director Peter Brosius: “I’ll miss the gorgeousness of his writing and his extraordinary love of the art form. What I won’t miss is him acting like my mother, like he knows us better than we know ourselves!”

“He’s a hack – always has been, always will be” said John Puchtel, Papatola’s good friend since third grade.

Despite all the zings, the evening was filled with affection. Most everyone said they would miss Papatola’s obvious love of and enthusiasm for theater, which comes through in his reviews even when they aren’t charitable. Robin Gillette, Director of the Minnesota Fringe Festival and one of the organizers of the roast, explained:

Dominic always brought a sense of the bigger picture to his writing, both in terms of local and national perspective. He didn’t just review the show that was in front of him, but he set it in context of that company’s previous work or the evolution of a particular actor/director/playwright. He also did serious investigative journalism about this business called show. I’m not saying no one else here in town does that, because that’s not the case, but the loss of that voice, sometimes strident, sometimes snarky but always backed with a true love for the art, will be sorely missed.

As for Papatola himself, he said while he won’t miss working nights and weekends, he will miss being “delighted, challenged, thrilled and even sometimes enraged by this fabulous theater community.”

In Papatola’s new job he’ll have to wear a suit to work, something he hasn’t had to do – ever. “For me, casual Fridays mean jammies,” he said.

Good luck, Papatola – you’re going to need it.


Dominic Papatola contemplates his karma

Photo by Kathy Graves

(Many thanks to Matthew Foster at the Minnesota Fringe Festival for providing the video montage)