Thursday nights at Ferndale’s Go Comedy! Improv Theater, once the domain of your basic evening of improv, have morphed over time to become a showcase for original scripted comedies. It’s a welcome change – and obviously a popular one – as it provides opportunities for our creative writers and performers to stretch their abilities and experiment with new ideas. The results can be hit or miss, of course, but the batting average so far has been quite high. So there I sat on a recent Thursday night, amidst a crowd of faces that I suspect were mostly first-timers at the theater. And the result were two more wins for those keeping score!
The night opens with a remounting of last year’s Wilde Award-nominated comedy, “Sirs.” But this is a somewhat tweaked version, with a revised script, new set design and cool projected visuals – all of which serve the show quite well.
The script, directed by Lauren Bickers and written by actors Garrett Fuller, Michael Hovitch, Bryan Lark and Jamen Spitzer, asks the question: How would YOU like it if you were forced to give up pretty much everything you love to move to a neighborhood you want no part of? And the answer comes from two sides of the same coin!
For years, the men of Tanglewood Lakes would gather in the backyard and Jacuzzi of Bill Schlepke, the leader of the pack. Fueled by beer and Bob Seger tunes, the 50-somethings would reminisce about old times and their deceased buddy Duke (owner of their favorite hardware store), and hang out doing whatever middle-aged, blue-collar straight guys like to do. And that’s where we find them at the opening of “Sirs” – except Bill no longer owns the home-on-the-lake. But that doesn’t matter: Hot Tub Thursdays have been reinstated whether new owner Alan Reynolds likes it or not – and he doesn’t. The two clash, of course, but they share one thing in common that becomes clear as the story progresses: Neither is happy about his current circumstances. Bill, we learn, was forced by his wife to move to a condo following his second heart attack, while newlywed Alan was forced to buy Bill’s house by his bride who wanted to leave his beloved Detroit for one of its pristine ‘burbs.
While there’s much humor to be found in the script, the heart of the show is its spot-on performances.
Each of the four men create a unique, recognizable character. Lark’s Bill is perfectly bombastic, a coronary waiting to happen, while Hovitch’s Alan serves as a nice contrast.
The most interesting performances, though, are Fuller as the hard-rockin’ and bull-shittin’ Dennis Broyles, and Spitzer, whose consistent body language and line delivery as Ben Mills is by far the most believable. Why? Because of all the actors, he’s the only one who seems to be a middle-aged guy rather than a 20-something trying to play one!
Another plus is Tommy LeRoy’s technical work. The camp fire scene – complete with special lighting and a nighttime background projected on a screen behind the cast – adds the perfect mood to an important moment in the story’s development.
After a brief intermission, the night continues with “Silent Too,” a sequel to last summer’s 2010 Wilde Award-nominated “Silent.” This time out, though, Pete Jacokes is joined by his brother Pj for a set of scenes performed totally in pantomime.
In a nod to last year’s production, the sequel opens with a repeat of a scene from the previous version – but from the viewpoint of its unseen participant. But the rest of the show is all new, and both men are quite skilled at storytelling without words. There were a few moments of imprecision strewn about, to be sure, which occasionally made the action somewhat unclear. But most of the scenes were carefully constructed and expertly mimed.
That’s especially true of a card game in which Pete’s dealing is crystal clear. (The scene also spawns a funny series of “High Five Me” moments throughout the rest of the performance.) A cooking scene by Pete is also a highlight, as is his superstitious pitcher for the Detroit Tigers.
Pj earns well-deserved applause for a segment in which he believes he’s been dumped via an answering machine message. (A tip of the hat also goes to the technical folks – Tommy LeRoy? Director Michelle LeRoy? – for a rear projection that adds unexpected humor to an already funny scene.)
And together, the two pull out all the stops to cover pretty much the entire range of emotions in a series of vignettes about what happens when the TV remote stops working. Then, after a night at the bar, Pete and Pj go to drive home – only to encounter a few unexpected difficulties along the way. There are morals to those stories. And I suggest you check out the show and find out what they are.
‘Sirs’ & ‘Silent Too’
Go Comedy! Improv Theater, 261 E. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale. Every Thursday through Aug. 26. $10 for the evening. 248-327-0575. http://www.gocomedy.net