News Column

Review - Troupe's 'Comedy' show is historically funny

August 28, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 28--Calling your show "The History of Comedy: Part 1" is certainly ambitious, if not downright audacious.

I initially thought that in choosing that title for its entertaining dinner theater production at TheatreNOW, which has its last two performances this weekend, Wilmington's Pineapple-Shaped Lamps troupe was being cheeky and ironic. Turns out they weren't even kidding.

"The History of Comedy" actually does a pretty thorough job of both chronicling and sending up the various comedy styles that have existed since the dawn of the 20th century. There are 13 sketches in all, something from every decade of the last 100-plus years, among them a vaudeville act that aims to offend, a Russian slapstick group whose antics devolve into for-real violence and a seemingly wholesome USO show that reveals a very weird underbelly.

PSL puts an absurd rather than a reverential twist on these styles, but the parodies are rooted in love. These writers and performers, all in their 20s, are great students of comedy history. More than anything, "The History of Comedy: Part 1" comes off like a love letter to comedy, and what's the point of loving something you can't make fun of, especially if you're a comedian?

The show begins at the beginning with "Before Comedy," which comes off like a scene from the movie "Caveman" starring Ringo Starr (Ug and Ugga, played by Jake Steward and Holly Cole, communicate in grunts) before morphing into something like a college sex comedy. There's also a randy young caveman named Carl (Wesley Brown), and the sketch includes the slaughtering of a deer (played convincingly by Jordan Mullaney), an act that somehow inspires Ug and Ugga to make out. Most importantly, the first fart joke is invented.

Like the rest of the skits, it's well-written, kind of random and more amusing and interesting than laugh-out-loud funny.

Our guide through the comedy ages is Ron Hasson, who helps transition the audience between each sketch, and while he struggles with his lines at times he's a competent host, able to go from e_SSRq60s space case to twitchy e_SSRq80s coke head and then on to something else.

There are a couple of video sketches, including Ben Henson's excellent "Mimes in Terrible Situations," about an innocent performer who keep running afoul of jealous men. The "silent" short is in black and white with perky little title cards, and it's some of the better video that's been produced for TheatreNOW.

Mullaneycreates the most memorable character with her brassy USO gal whose catchphrase is, "I know what you boys want!" She think it's Siamese twins and women dressed up like chickens, but she's wrong, incurring the ire of our confused fighting forces every time she comes on stage to reveal a new ridiculous extreme.

"The Breaxsploitation Club" by Zach Pappas is another fun concept. It places '80s action heroes (Brendan Carter is particularly effective as a gruff-voiced John Rambo) into "The Breakfast Club" movie, which sounds insane, but it's actually kind of funny to hear The Terminator (Steward) pour his heart out, even though he has no feelings.

Things occasionally get too absurd for their own good, as with the manic and pointless (maybe that's the point?) skit "Two Girls Looking to Buy an Alligator" by Ryan P.C. Trimble, an homage to Monty Python. But Trimble and other writers don't hesitate to call out their comedy forebearers, exposing the racism of vaudeville, the sexism of sterile '50s styles and the narcissism of the '90s-ruling "Seinfeld."

The production values are outstanding for a no-budget production, including costumes that accurately evoke each genre.

It is dinner theater, and while there are show-only tickets available, chef Denise Gordon's fare is tasty, including a bright and flavorful gazpacho and a nicely spicy Asian shrimp wrap.

All in all, not a bad evening out. Wilmington's lucky to have a smart, talented troupe like Pineapple-Shaped Lamps that's doing such good work, and whose best is likely yet to come.

John Staton: 343-2343

Twitter: @Statonator

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