Tired of football every Sunday afternoon? Then head to Novi for The Second City’s “Sunday Double Header” where you’ll find two hours of original comedy crafted by young, up-and-coming improvisers and assembled under the tutelage of established pros.
The concept is simple: Producing artistic director Nate DuFort wanted to give local improvisers an opportunity to create, develop and stage their own shows, so he put out a call to the improv community asking for ideas. The results can be seen most Sundays beginning at 5 p.m.
The beauty of “Sunday Double Header” is that it offers talented creators of various experience levels a nurturing environment in which to sharpen their skills in a practical, real-world setting. So it’s what the artists learn through trial-and-error that matters most here – as the experience allows them to either succeed or fail on their own merits. And with that experience, of course, comes both personal and professional growth.
Plus, there’s nothing quite like passing or failing in front of a live audience primed and ready to laugh!
Both shows in the November edition of “Sunday Double Header” are fine examples of why such an artistic playground is invaluable.
The evening’s opening show, “Barnhart,” is a poignant, yet funny family tale culled from today’s headlines. A teenager (Garrett Fuller) rebels when he’s stuck with a not-so cool step-dad (Christian McDaniel) he doesn’t particularly like. Or so he says. So the once friendly youngster becomes an angry, dog collar-wearing Goth kid who claims “Satan has summoned me.” But appearances CAN be deceiving, both characters learn.
Directed by longtime Second City veteran Nancy Hayden, this often-funny, two-person comedy – intentionally or not – serves as a showcase for the nice character work of rising star Garrett Fuller. Although both actors portray multiple roles throughout the show, Fuller grasps the importance of making each character unique – that simply putting on a hat or taking off a coat isn’t enough to let the audience know that he’s now a different person. So he changes his walk, modifies his facial expressions and modulates his voice – and he looks like he’s having a blast while doing it.
The script, however, still needs a little work. Although each scene moves the story forward and offers insights into the characters’ minds, some judicious trimming would remove a few dead spots and tighten up the show immensely.
Michigan is the focus of the second hour, “City Limits.” Through a fast-paced series of monologues and sketches, eight improvisers poke fun of “the splendor that is Michigan.” From one end of the mitten state to the other they venture – from a woman who came from the old country to Hamtramck in search of a “real American man” like Vin Diesel or Steve Guttenberg to the de-gaying of fabulous Ferndale. (“There goes the neighborhood,” one gay man says to his partner as a straight couple moves in next door.)
The show is at its best when it spends time sharply skewering its subjects.
Marke Sobolewski and Lauren Bickers, for example, are right on target as the Ann Arbor couple who wouldn’t pick gender-specific names for their three kids – so they’re stuck with Earth, Wind and Fire. And one loves going to catechism, much to the horror of its Wiccan parents.
But part way into the show, the cast narrows its focus to a handful of continuing stories: the homeless veterans (Bryan Lark and Adam Peacock) who stab themselves outside Joe Louis Arena so they’ll get food and shelter at the hospital; the ritzy, out-of-touch Birmingham couple (Ann Faba and Tim McKendrick) who steal a baby, and then are clueless about how to raise it; and the owners of a fudge store on Mackinaw Island (Mike McGettigan and Saurin Choksi) who panic when tourists stop heading north.
While each storyline starts out strong with creative performances from each of the actors, all three plots eventually wear thin and overstay their welcome. (The quickening pace and fast cuts between scenes only worsen the problem.) And as the scenes deteriorate, so do the laughs.
Directors Peter Jacokes and Tara Nida, along with their talented improvisers, might want to condense the three, long-drawn-out plotlines into a sharper, more focused work – and then fill the remaining time with other quirky Michiganders. After all, we know they’re out there, waiting to be laughed at!
THE BOTTOM LINE
Despite their flaws, both shows are exciting examples of creativity at work. And what better way is there for young, up-and-comers to learn their craft than by testing out new material in front of a live audience? It’s an education for them and fun for us – so everyone’s a winner on Sundays at The Second City!
(FOR “REVIEW BOX”)
‘Sunday Double Header: Barnhart & City Limits’
The Second City, 42705 Grand River Ave., Novi. Sundays through November beginning at 5 p.m. Tickets: $7. For information: 248-348-4448 or http://www.secondcity.com