One of the funniest places in Metro Detroit is Ferndale’s Go Comedy! Improv Theater. Open five nights a week, Go Comedy! started life not long ago as a new home for the area’s ever-blossoming improv community, but the founders have since branched out to include scripted comedies in their repertoire. That’s especially true on Thursday nights, which now feature two such shows and an original improvised comedy back-to-back. Two are revivals of shows that were originally staged at other theaters, and one is brand spanking new, but the end result is a full night of laughter that’s well worth the $10 entrance fee.
The Opal Show: The night begins with a bang at 8 p.m., thanks to a script by local playwright Kim Carney that knocked the socks off of attendees at last summer’s BoxFest Detroit at The Furniture Factory. Its previous incarnation I thought was excellent, but the revival – once again under the fine direction of Shannon Ferrante – is even better, thanks to the finely tuned performances of returning actors Sarah Switanowski and Bryan Lark.
“The Opal Show” begins in a police department interrogation room, where Opal is being questioned about a shooting at a local motel. Told mostly through flashbacks, we discover that the dollar store employee’s humdrum life exploded with excitement following a chance meeting with Vito Funzi, who – thanks to her obsession with TV shows of the past and present – she believes is a member of the Mafia. (He actually IS a garbage man, not a Tony Soprano-like hit man.) Thinking she’s just into kinky role play, Vito goes along with her somewhat strange behavior – until she goes too far and requests that he kill her heretofore never-mentioned husband, Ned Flanders.
Carney’s unique, character-driven plot is a fun and fresh look at a rather unusual woman and her obsessions. Most striking are the juicy bits she offers her actors, which director Ferrante and her cast serve with relish (and plenty of polish).
Lark once again gives the best performance of his career as the not-so-bright, but very horny Vito who’s willing to overlook Opal’s eccentricities for a fun (albeit challenging) roll in the sack.
But Switanowski’s performance – either as a result of more rehearsal time or personal growth as an actress – has evolved tremendously. She opens the show with high octane energy and never stops. (Her focus, especially when she’s talking to the police officers – who the audience neither sees nor hears – is perfect.)
And opposite Lark, the two make beautiful comedy together!
Hobo: The 9 p.m. show (or thereabouts) had a short run at Planet Ant two years ago, and to be honest, I didn’t remember it whatsoever. Until, that is, the very funny comedy got underway.
Written by Second City Detroit alum Tim Robinson, “Hobo” tells the legendary tale of Mike Walsh (Garrett Fuller), a 26-year-old who hates his boring job and simply walks through life with no goals and an aversion to taking risks. But a chance meeting with Chester (Bryan Lark), a panhandling hobo, changes his life forever.
Robinson, who many will remember for his often-brilliant performances at The Second City and Planet Ant, has proved equally adept at crafting an engaging ensemble piece for others to perform. And directors Tommy and Michelle LeRoy and their cast of seven have mined every word of the script to create some of the most memorable characters to hit the stage this season.
Fuller has built a successful career playing a character all of us know in real life: the nice, attractive, likable, outgoing guy – probably a former high school jock – who’s never the brightest scholar in the room. “Hobo” presents him with yet another variation on the character, and he interprets it well.
And Lark turns in his second fine performance of the night as Chester.
The five remaining ensemble members all play multiple characters – and they do so quite nicely.
Jon Ager opens the show as storyteller Sharp Teeth Pete, and then scores plenty of laughs as Mike’s sexually confused boss. (The urine test scene with Fuller is especially well played.)
Steve Forbes is also notable as the hobo Old No Arms.
But the night’s standout is Suzie Jacokes, who plays three characters. She does a great slow burn as Mike’s soon-to-be ex-girlfriend, but her later appearance as hobo Sweet Sally (who’s hot-to-trot for Mike) is superb. Watch her when she’s not the focus of attention, and you’ll be treated to some of the most focused – and hilarious – character work I’ve seen all season.
Dial R for Radio Drama: The closing show is also the night’s weakest. An original improvised comedy created and directed by Michelle LeRoy, “Dial R” reveals the behind-the-scenes antics in the studio of an old time radio detective show. The first half is the broadcast’s dress rehearsal where the audience discovers all the backstage machinations. The live broadcast follows, during which the earlier problems plague (and doom) the show.
What plagues THIS show, however, is uneven pacing. (My theory? Too few rehearsals, or not enough focus on the details.) There’s an art and a science to organizing disorganization on stage – that is, to tightly stage a mess so that it LOOKS like a mess, but in actually, it’s finely tuned chaos. But that’s not what seemed to happen on opening night. Despite some humorous moments, long pauses became slightly uncomfortable, and the action often lunged forward in fits and starts.
Plus, the actors appeared to be at different comfort levels with their lines and roles. And, to be honest, that left rising star Michael Brian Ogden – a consummate pro – sometimes looking like he was leagues above some of his costars in terms of talent, ability and preparation.
‘Thursdays at Go Comedy!’
Go Comedy! Improv Theater, 261 E. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale. Thursdays through February. $10 for the evening. 248-327-0575. http://www.gocomedy.net