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Somewhere Down The Crazy River

Two new solo character showcases at UCB illustrate the ups and downs of the genre.


In Ann Carr’s show at the UCB Theatre, “Use It,” seen February 12, she takes aim at her own characters, set up as easy targets, and gets more sympathy than laughter. By contrast, Dominic Dierkes, whose own solo show, “Adventure River,” was paired with Carr’s, presented his own clueless or hapless characters with a more sympathetic attitude toward them in his performance, which got him a stronger audience response.

Carr’s character, Kate Rios, recurring a few times in her 25-minute show, is a self-absorbed actress who wins an Oscar at the beginning of the show, then forgets her husband’s name in the acceptance speech. Later, Rios runs into Hannah, another character Carr plays separately in another scene, a down-on-her-luck former college classmate, and blathers on inconsiderately, which is just more uncomfortable to watch than anything.

It gets even worse in the later scene where Carr plays Hannah, all distraught after the encounter, reminding her of her lack of success, as she embarrassingly breaks down crying in a Starbucks. In between these interwoven characters, Carr also plays an equally clueless stage mom, bringing in her son for an audition. The common thread in all of this, making fun of self-absorbed show business people, is, as said before, is such an easy target, that it really requires a sharper blade, aimed at the situation rather than the people, than Carr has in her writing.

Dierkes, on the other hand, has a lighter touch and actually scores more laughs by aiming a little lower, mixing in just a little surreal touch to his characters. The title of his show (also about 25 minutes) refers to its most inventive piece, where he plays an author of a “choose your own adventure” type book, doing a reading, who seems to want the choices to go only one way.

Similarly, as another character, an army captain trying to seem hip and cool while giving a recruiting speech, Dierkes pulls out references more likely to be made by a man in his 50s or 60s, such as Tony Curtis, Dennis Franz and Drew Carey, thinking this will win his audience over. It’s an inventive premise for a character, and Dierkes’ acting also makes it both more sympathetic and funny.

Dierkes packs another couple characters into his show, equally well rendered -- a recurring character of a lonely teen finding himself without a dance partner at a junior high dance (later carried forward just like an improv performer might), and a guy who wants to make a sex tape with a green screen, overly concerned with sight lines and visual effects. The success of Dierkes’ show is all in its creator’s inventiveness -- the characters he’s written and performs are all creations an audience will wish it thought of itself.

Carr will perform “Use It” again 8 p.m. Thursday, March 12, and Dierkes performs “Adventure River” again 8 p.m. Thursday, March 5, both at the UCB Theatre. 
   

     

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