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Their Comedy Initiative

Sketch duo Mark and Ari craft a classic show using a parody of "Lost" as a framework.

Pictured: Mark Sarian and Ari Voukydis.

“Loft,” a sketch show by Mark Sarian and Ari Voukydis seen at the UCB Theatre on August 1, parodies the TV series “Lost,” but isn’t totally reliant on that parody to be a funny show. The duo have been performing together since 1998 and the experience shows.

Sarian & Voukydis (they more commonly call themselves Mark and Ari most of the time) craft their “Lost” parody out of music, lighting effects, and most notably filmed material -- capturing to a tee the scratchy and choppy “Dharma Initiative” film from the show, only as an “Ikea Initiative” training film on how to build furniture from the store.

Then the duo seamlessly weaves the recurring parody motif with other unrelated sketches and characters, in some cases returning to some of those characters and carrying them forward in their own story arcs -- the way performers might in a good improvisation.

Ari’s Slavic landlord character taps some good influences from 1970s SNL, in delivery of lines and the writing of the character, like the facetiousness and cluelessness of the Wild & Crazy Guys or Father Guido Sarducci. He kicks off the show with a perfect three part heightened joke about places he’s been banned from. Mark plays a fellow landlord/super who commiserates with him about “fuckin’ tenants,” as they often call them.

Mark and Ari later shift gears for another highlight of their show, playing a pair of Southern hicks who become “fuckin’ tenants” in that building, who find themselves surprisingly becoming smarter than the average redneck. Somehow they also squeeze into the show another duo of typical New Yorker tenant characters, in another sketch where they catch themselves starting to turn into their own dads, to their dismay.

The duo’s character sketches, as framed by the “Lost” parody, stand on their own, not needing to rely on parody for material, but they’re certainly heightened and tied together well by that. Even if you’ve never seen “Lost,” you’ll get a lot of laughs out of their show.

Mark and Ari were preceded by “Seriously Extremely Important,” a sketch show written and performed by Julie Sharbutt, Liz Wisan and Zhubin Parang, with Chris Bolan. This show had a few wryly funny moments, but all in all, got stuck in a catch-22 of being banal and vapid to try to parody the banal and vapid. It never seemed possible before, but the show manages to play to the bottom of the performers intelligence, instead of to the top that improv coaches and acting teachers might like them to aim for.

Sharbutt is the focal point, playing what seems like a version of herself, as a self-absorbed college student who feels driven to get involved in protesting the Iraq war, but can’t seem to get her head around reading anything in the New York Times other than the Arts & Leisure section.

So, inspired to write a play, her character ladles on the ignorance on top of the cliches. This does yield a chuckle or two, as when she thinks research means doing a search for “army vets” on MySpace, or writing dialogue for a soldier character who wants to “make babies laugh instead of cry.”

But the satire of ignorance can only go so far, and the third act of Sharbutt’s show descends into romantic rivalry as the characters all sneak into re-writing their own lines for the play within the play. It takes the piece off-course in the end.

“Loft” returns to the UCB Theatre 8 p.m. Aug. 22, and goes to the UCB Theatre in Los Angeles on Aug. 29 and 30. “Seriously Extremely Important” returns to UCB on Aug. 15 and 29.

  

   

     

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