EVERYBODY GETS CAKE
LIVES OF THE SAINTS
5 TIMES IN ONE NIGHT
In the aftermath of watching Everybody Gets Cake, my significant other and I tried to figure out why Everybody Gets Cake, written and performed by the Parallel Exit troupe, had misfired by such a narrow margin. An evening of surreal comedy bits and blackouts—think Monty Python, Firesign Theatre, The Goon Show, perhaps even a slight nod to SCTV with less overall coherency—it has some inspired ideas (my S.O.’s favorite was “Why Mother Theresa Hates Banks”) and the three performers (Joel Jeske, Danny Gardner And Brent Mcbeth), singly and in tandem, have enough persona and understanding of delivery and timing to qualify as guys who aren’t out of place in comedy. Yet the laughs were scattered, rarely boffo and solid; and on aggregate it all seemed more clever than funny; and in comedy terms, that’s a little death.
We went through all our possible reasons, comparing to the famous funny folks who work or worked in the same vein, and just when we thought we had it, we noted exceptions (I got hung up for a while on the notion of what defines “performing genius,” but that was just too variable, and there are lots of folks who’ve made a career of funny who didn’t/don’t fit the definition). I’d been reading Jerry Lewis’s autobiography Dean & Me: A Love Story, which inspired us to YouTube his pantomime bits to Leroy Anderson’s “The Typewriter” and Count Basie’s “Chairman of the Board”—and I noted that in both of them, no matter which iteration you looked at, he had little inconsistencies, and in “The Typewriter” made a few flat-out mistakes. But he was so relaxed about them that you barely noticed, unless you were really paying attention. Even in the iconic version from his film, “Who’s Minding the Store?” there’s a flub forever a part of cinematic history. His mistimes the coordination of a gesture to its intended typewriter sound effect and, acknowledging it, snaps his finger and pulls a face as if to say, “Shucks,” yet he doesn’t pull himself out of the moment to do it. It’s such a smoothly managed parenthesis that it doesn’t bother you. More importantly, it didn’t bother him, or he would have reshot the sequence. He let it stay as part of the fun. And when I pointed that out, my S.O. nailed it:
Relaxation. He’s relaxed.
This is not at all to imply that a comedian’s persona portrays a relaxed state of being—frequently of course it’s the opposite—but you don’t catch the effort. It all springs from a natural place; from a place of being at play rather than at work.
The Parellel Exit guys haven’t achieved that. They’re so caught up in the mechanics that the extra few degrees of making it look easy (Bill Irwin and David Shiner, anyone? The Marx Brothers?) haven’t yet been incorporated into the technique.
Whether it can be…whether they can natively find their way to it or whether they simply haven’t the special mojo that allows them to, I have no idea. Time will tell.
But I wish them luck with it. There’s a brand name’s worth of funny in what they’re trying to do.
By stark contrast, there's Lives of the Saints, the latest collection of comic one acts by David Ives, who has made such something of a specialty. There are six of them here, each operating by its own ground rules, none related to the other except maybe as a riff on what “sainthood” might add up to in a number of varying contexts. I'm loath to describe them because the particular short form in which Mr. Ives traffics is at its best taken cold, for often the very premise comes as a surprise, and the surprise can be delightful, loopy, unsettling, startling, etc. And I'm all for supporting that in full force. What's far more important is that director John Rando and his cast of five comedy specialists (Arnie Burton, Carson Elrod, Rick Holmes, Kelly Hutchinson, Liv Rooth) deliver all this stuff with the assurance of people who are very comfortable with comedy; and not just the comedy of situation, (Ives provides plenty of that) but the comedy of technique, which is far less about acting than performing, far more about putting forth an idea rather than a character—yet with full in-the-moment commitment.
By even starker contrast, and among the biggest surprises of the season, there's 5 Times in One Night, yet another collection of one acts, this one by Chiara Atik, all performed by the same paired couple, Dylan Dawson and Darcy Fowler. It will surprise none of you to learn that the subject of the anthology is sex, nor that there are five variations wrought; but where it lives up to its capacity to take you unawares is that despite being an off-off Broadway engagement (an Equity Approved Showcase)—from the Youngblood arm of EST, now as ever ridiculously West on 52nd Street—and despite your having to get to the playing space via operator-driven freight elevator—what’s presented in its highly informal space is what I can only describe as mainstream funny. Neil-Simon-in-his-heyday funny. Opening night of Plaza Suite (Simon's most celebrated one act evening) funny.
Ms. Atik manages a nice balance between sketch comedy and human comedy. Every other play, the first, third and fifth, travels backward through history as a premise for satire: The first is set post-nuclear apocalypse; the last man in the world really wants to get laid and the last woman really isn't in the mood. The third tells of the forbidden, clandestine relationship between Abelard and Heloise in epistolary fashion—which is not to say in faux-classical lingo; their growing passions and its consequences are rendered in deliriously informal contemporary slang. The fifth and the finale"dramatizes" the discovery of sex by—wouldn't you know—Adam and Eve.
Ms. Atik reserves Plays #2 and 3 for more serious-minded comedy that moves forward in relationship time; initially giving us a divorced couple contemplating children; subsequently giving us a younger but years-married couple just finding out that they haven't been as good at talking about what they need as they thought.
aforementioned Mr. Dawson and Ms. Fowler, are pitch-perfect light comedy
players, both in a very big way ready for prime time, as the saying goes, moving from play to play with
deceptive ease that is both disarming and charming. Full marks, too, to director RJ Tolan for maintaing a tonal balance that is just right for each play within itrself and in relation to the others.
I hope 5 Times in One Night gets "discovered" and moves to the less remote, more mainstream venue it deserves. It's a top notch sex-and-romance two-hander—think Same Time, Next Year; 6 Rms Riv Vu and The Owl and the Pussycat, if your points of reference go back that far, and they may have to, because as the saying goes in the sex game, it's been such a long time—and it would more than earn its keep in the standard stock-and-amateur repertoire.
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