By Carolyn Hayes
Go Comedy! Improv Theater has been slinging drinks and off-the-cuff improvised comedy for well over four years, but it has also been making continuous strides in scripted content. By its count, the company has mounted a staggering 42 original productions since late 2008, from sketch revues to one-act plays to fully realized musicals. Now, the fruits of these labors have been culled into a roaring retrospective, aptly titled “The Best of Go Comedy!”
Directed by artistic director Chris DiAngelo and starring a magic-number cast of six (Joey Dombrowski, Michelle Giorlando, Suzie Jacokes, Matt Naas, Jeremy St. Martin, and Alison Tomak), the show is energetically celebratory without being self-congratulatory. Pumped-up interstitial lighting and music cues do their part to invigorate the audience and performers, but the production correctly guesses that the theater’s achievements will speak for themselves.
Nearly all of the content is cherry-picked from Go’s vast sketch comedy oeuvre; although a fair number of other original productions are thus excluded, the choice is a wise one in terms of flow and function. The longer sketches and hiccup-quick blackout scenes draw their humor from precise word play, impeccable premises, self-mockery, and innovative use of pantomime. As dictated by years of stalwart holiday shows, a fair number of Christmas-y references wind their way through the production, but not enough to fully overtake the clean and crisp sketch machinery. In fact, if there’s any informative theme in this assortment, it’s the preponderance of Michigan-centric humor – be it euchre vehemence or an ode to Jobbie Nooner, it appears the most enduring and amusing material hits closest to home.
DiAngelo inserts his new team in these established scenes with a fine sense of both fit and equal distribution. He also hews decidedly close to the sketches’ original staging and interpretations. In some cases, the performances primarily serve to showcase unimpeachably brilliant writing; in others, indomitably memorable characters are resurrected as a sort of homage rather than taking on new life. Even with a baseline as consistently solid as this superb material, the show’s high points of humor come when the performers make it their own, such as Jacokes’s ever-ready outsized reactions and editorializing delivery. In a few cases, the players bring the same spark to work that they originated, such as a musical number rendered incongruously compelling by its composer (Naas).
Notably, the performance this reviewer attended was unique in that one cast member had fallen ill, his various roles filled by no less than three Go regulars with a few hours’ notice. Yet not only did the substitutions go off with scarcely a hitch, the impromptu changes and challenges bested shone with the collaborative spirit of improvisation, the art upon which this company has built its empire. Instead of merely averting catastrophe, the show exposed the best of Go Comedy! in another way altogether.
During the course of the show, the players informally follow “The Best of Go Comedy!” with the ambitious appendix “Volume I.” And indeed, that’s what this quick look back feels like: not the final word on the theater’s legacy, but a way station en route to the laughter and new bests to come.
‘The Best of Go Comedy!’
Go Comedy! Improv Theater, 261 E. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale. 8 p.m. Friday through March 29. 80 minutes; no intermission. $15. 248-327-0575. http://www.gocomedy.net