By D. A. Blackburn
Late night shows at the Planet Ant have always been an incubator for up-and-coming talent, and a launching pad for creative new works. The company’s latest offering, “Joe Vs. The Travis,” certainly fits the bill in both respects. But moreover, it feels like a changing of the guard.
One need look no further than the title page of the show’s program to understand why. “Joe Vs. The Travis” was written by, and stars, two performers who are reasonably fresh faces on the Detroit-area theater/improv scene: Joe Hingelberg and Travis Pelto. But off stage, the production boasts staff well-known to area patrons: Michelle and Tommy LeRoy (in various design capacities), Pete Jacokes (stage manager) and Bryan Lark (making his directorial debut).
As one might expect, given this arrangement of fresh and established talent, “Joe Vs. The Travis” comes to the stage feeling a bit raw and rough-edged, but it also has some well-polished elements. The result – fun, though imperfect – is almost surely a glimpse at the origins of many successful future productions.
Hingelberg and Pelto’s script is a clever mix of off-beat humor. But it falls victim to a Seinfeldian lack of plot, dramatic purpose and structure, ultimately feeling a bit disjointed and under-developed. As such, offering a synopsis of the work in this space would be futile, because there’s so little plot to convey.
That said, both Hingelberg and Pelto turn in vivid performances, with hilarious, bold expressions and some very witty characterizations. And it’s this performance element that makes “Joe Vs. The Travis” such an interesting anomaly, and saves the show from certain death. Both performances are so original, so engaging and so funny, that they redeem the lackluster script.
As Hingelberg and Pelto – who improvise under the name Forever 15 – hone their craft as writers, they will likely churn out some exceptionally funny shows.
With his first foray into stage direction, Lark makes a credible, if far from groundbreaking showing. Like “Joe Vs. The Travis'” writers/performers, it’s obvious that the best work from Lark (as a director) is still to come.
To be sure, all three have bright futures in the business.
‘Joe Vs. The Travis’
A Late Night show at Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff St., Hamtramck. 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday through Nov. 14. $5. 313-365-4948. http://www.planetant.com