Twice a year improv troupes from all over Southeast Michigan come together at Planet Ant Theatre for “Colony Fest,” an almost week-long battle to determine which group earns the privilege of writing and starring in a late night original comedy under the watchful eye of an industry veteran. After slamming down its rivals, Pillow Fight won the 2010 Winter Improv Festival and teamed with Second City alumnus Shawn Handlon to create “Herstory Repeats Herself: A trilogy in 3-D” that officially opened July 30. And the result is a squirrelly, time-spanning comedy that asks the questions: If you could go back in time and change one very specific moment in your life, would you? And if you did, would the result be any better than what life has already dealt you?
Girl band Beautiful Triangle does just that – not once, but twice. As band members Dana (Jess McCartney), Crystal (Maria Monkaba) and Kris (Carrie Hall) are about to go on stage for what could be their career-defining concert, Dana encourages the group to shoot heroin just before the concert is to begin. “Don’t you want to know what beauty smells like?” she devilishly says to influence her hesitant friends. The decision they make reverberates for years to come. And when their lives are at their bleakest, a wish returns them to that fateful moment when a different decision takes their lives down a totally divergent path.
Be careful what you wish for!
The Late Night Series at Planet Ant serves as an excellent training ground for up-and-coming artists who desire an opportunity to sharpen their skills and expand their horizons. It’s also a safe haven where pass or fail doesn’t really matter; it’s what the artists learn and walk away with that truly counts. And to be honest, that’s what’s great about the Late Night Series: The participants take risks and have a blast doing so – and the audience usually does, too!
That was certainly the case at the opening night performance – partially, I suspect, because of the friendly industry insiders who filled many of the seats. (Plus, the much-loved Jaime Moyer was in the house, and her hearty and distinctive laugh is quite infectious!)
But credit must be given to McCartney, Monkaba and Hall (and director Handlon) for crafting a well-plotted script that’s filled unanticipated twists and turns and wry one-liners such as “Who knew heroin would break up a band?” and the amusing show-closing song “Puff, Puff, Pass.” (One warning: The moral of the story might not sit well with uptight, humorless ultraconservatives!)
Plus, the team created one of the most unique and fearsome characters to hit the stage all summer: the mostly unseen Earl, the orphaned squirrel who is taken in and cared for by Crystal – and who eventually controls her every move.
Where the production falls somewhat short, however, is the script’s execution.
While the script calls for the three likable women to play multiple roles – men, women and children – it’s not always easy to quickly figure out who’s playing which of their characters as they enter a scene; attempts by the actors to differentiate their characters are usually minor and mostly inconsequential. (Clothes change, but not the mannerisms or voices.) Baseball caps signify men, but they still look (and usually move) like women. (I had no clue, for example, that one character was a little boy until late in his scene, which – until it dawned on me – had me scratching my head about some of his dialogue.) And although the script tells us we’ve moved forward or backward in time, the characters don’t always reflect such a change. (Of the three, Monkaba is best at creating unique characters.)
The troupe excels, though, in moving the story forward. The pace is brisk, and scene changes are fairly quick – although there were a few awkward moments when dialogue significantly beat the lights at the beginning of a scene. And all three were quite adept at running off stage and switching from one character to another when scenes called for more than three characters.
All told, “Herstory Repeats Herself” is a delightful, thought-provoking venture that’s a bit rough around the edges. But with tighter attention to its many details, its full potential could be realized.
‘Herstory Repeats Herself: A trilogy in 3-D’
Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff Ave., Hamtramck. A Late Night show. 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday through Aug. 14. $10. 313-365-4948. http://www.planetant.com