Peter Gwinn and Gee Lutz
Peter Gwinn with illustration.
Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre pairs two shows together, they usually
are complementary in some way, whether they are sketch shows, one- or
two-person shows, or improv shows. With the pairing of GeeLutz and Peter
Gwinn’s The Confidence Ladder, the contrast couldn’t be more glaring.
contrast comes from the constant refrain of Gwinn’s director, Michael
Delaney, when he teaches improvisation, about playing to the “top of
one’s intelligence.” Gwinn does just that with the characters in his
one-man show, while GeeLutz, the pairing of Sarah Gee and John Lutz with
a series of sketches, mostly goes beneath the intelligence of the
and Lutz tend to go way too often to characters with tics, falling too
often into the kind of shtick that happens when improvisers go for the
cheap joke instead of reacting to the situation and the other performers
and their characters with some intelligence. Gee plays an odd old lady
on a bus whose constant refrain of “pardon me, excuse me,” over-relies
on a catchphrase for the humor. Lutz plays a guy whose smoking and
drinking comes only in tandem to certain music playing -- not like a
character sketch where the humor comes from what they confront with
their own limited capacities.
few bits that worked in GeeLutz were the ones that brought some
intelligence to the characters, as when Gee plays a stripper who is
mother to Lutz’s fat over-eating son who can’t stop pulling Hostess
cakes out of various pockets, because this at least resembles a
relationship that could be real. Lutz really hits on something smart at
one other point in the show as a magician confronting an unfortunate
mishap while performing at a child’s birthday party.
Gwinn’s “Confidence Ladder” frames his characters around the idea of
gradually heightening levels of confidence, starting with D&D and
computer game-playing nerds, on to a TV con man, a “middle of the road”
safe rapper, and later to a mischievous (and anachronistic) Abe Lincoln
tossing down nachos on the audience from the Ford’s Theater box before
all works on an intelligent level, though, because the oddities don’t
detract from reality. All Gwinn’s characters function with some sort of
brains even under the weird and funny quirks. His characters aren’t
overpowered by the tics that players naturally want to put into a
performance to make them funny, and they are all the funnier for that.