Who among us doesn’t remember Montag the Magnificent and Marbles, the amazing ventriloquist act that entertained millions from the silent screen years through much of the 20th century? They delighted audiences young and old until that infamous demon-in-the-bottle took control and ended what had been a brilliant career – only to see their long-awaited and much anticipated return crumble as quickly as it began. It was an end of an era most won’t ever forget.
Wait a minute! You don’t remember them? Not to worry, my confused readers: “Montag the Magnificent and Marbles” is the latest scripted comedy at Go Comedy! Improv Theater, and it’s likely the most original concept to hit an area stage in recent memory.
Presented as an infomercial promoting a DVD of the “best of” (and “worst of”) Montag and Marbles’ recorded appearances, the story follows the ups and downs of their fabled career – from its humble beginnings to their short-lived return to the stage many decades later. It’s a story of meteoric success followed by a booze-and-drug-fueled crash, but one thing kept the act together through it all: their friendship.
As creepy as that might sound, it’s true – and the script by Josh Campos (Montag) and Brian Papandrea (Marbles) always keeps that in the foreground. (Jeff Dunham’s recent biography helps explain the relationship between a “vent” and his dummies. It’s an interesting book. End of free plug.) So despite Montag’s descent into the bottle, they always had each other’s back – or a hand up one’s back, as the case might be. And as such, a reunion was pretty much pre-ordained – except fate had other ideas in mind.
While the script reveals the back story in a clear, concise way, it’s the fine performances by Campos and Papandrea that takes the production to a higher level.
To pull this off, one must believe Montag is the ventriloquist and Marbles is his dummy – and it takes only seconds into the performance to buy into it. What specifically sells it is Papandrea’s physicality as the dummy and Campos’ handling of him: Every move is what you’d expect, from the eye blinks, to the head turning to the limp arms that never move on their own. (I also suspect he’s a fan of the aforementioned Dunham; one specific reaction echoes Dunham’s popular character, Peanut.)
Even the visual illusions work – from the little legs to the facial make-up – and if Papandrea doesn’t suffer brain damage from all the times his limp body falls and his head hits a hard object I’ll be surprised.
Direction by Pete Jacokes keeps the story flowing and the laughs coming. And the video work by Bob Wieck, Pj Jacokes and Papandrea help sell the overall concept of the comedy.
So don’t be a dummy or let me put words in your mouth: See for yourself why the most unique ventriloquist act the world has never seen is actually a delightful and laugh-filled hour of fun here in Ferndale.
‘Montag the Magnificent and Marbles’
Go Comedy! Improv Theater, 261 E. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale. 10 p.m. Thursday through May 24. $5. 50 minutes without intermission. 248-327-0575. http://www.gocomedy.net