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Opening Rounds

Sketchprov competition proves slow to find footing in its first night

By Cristina Merrill / Jester correspondent

The PIT’s 4th annual Sketchprov festival got off to a slow start Sunday, Sept. 19, with the majority of eight sketch and improv teams making half-hearted attempts at humor – less excusable when it comes to sketch as opposed to improvisation. Having seen some of the theater’s performers over the past few months in various shows, it was bizarre to see such talented people so off-form, especially when the stakes are a $2,500 cash prize and a four-week prime time slot.

In the first night of Sketchprov, whose time slots alternate between sketch and improvisation groups, the energy level actually dropped as the night progressed. While every group brought something to the table, eliciting some laughter and reaction from voting audiences, overall, the night was disappointing. The bar wasn’t set too high for subsequent nights’ competitors, and the next night, Sept. 20 would end up raising the stakes (see next review).

The first hour on Sept. 19 was taken up by sketch groups “Audience of Two” and “People’s Sketch Association,” two very worthy competitors. Audience of Two’s Ben Masten and Sam Dingman played it safe and performed popular songs of theirs, including one that spoofs famous authors, such as James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Charles Bukowski. In the following skit, they played two men at a bar in the Bahamas. Dingman attempts to make an international call to Duluth, explaining to Masten that he has never made an international call before. “I don’t think you’re making one now,” Masten tells Dingman as he, incorrectly, attempts to dial the phone number. The People’s Sketch Association followed, performing a variety of skits that included a spoof of the radio deejay Delilah, who announces the beginning of the Zombie Apocalypse. PSA member Ariana Seigel looked progressively shocked and terrified without saying a word, to the point that she took out a gun for self-protection before becoming zombie-fied herself. Another skit that stood out consisted of four PSA members debating which character they personify from shows such as Sex and the City and The Golden Girls. Such versatility and dynamic made for great comedy, but Audience of Two would win this round.

The second hour was between the improv groups Local 154 and Herschel. Local 154 was prompted by the suggestion of “egg salad,” a phrase put to good use by members Mandy Schmeider and Ariel Karlin, with Karlin going on at great length about why she will never eat egg salad. Two Local 154 guys played children at an advanced daycare center who quote Noam Chomsky and make a Chevy engine out of Legos. Herschel followed Local 154, and was prompted by the object “Silly Bandz.” They launched into Gospel-like song and dance about the popular bracelets, describing them at one point as “the biggest cock blocker I’ve ever seen.”  Herschel’s improvised scenes were longer and more energetic than their predecessors. Their combination of improv with song and dance helped keep the show flowing, and helped them win the round.

The third hour reverted back to sketch with the groups Foolhardy Manor and Boat. Foolhardy Manor would win this round, and for good reason. They did a great job of spoofing characters and stories such as Stuart Little, Mario and Luigi and the most famous red-headed orphan, Annie, played by Meghan Conda. All of Foolhardy Manor’s skits were laugh-worthy, but their portrayals of the pressures surrounding young actresses who play Annie were especially spot on.  Boat had moments of its own, including a funny piece about a bogus phone-sex conversation, but they did not display the energy of their predecessors.

The fourth hour brought back one more round of improv with “We’re Matt Weir” and “Jen and Steve.” “We’re Matt Weir” was uncharacteristically off-form (see prior review, 5/15/10), although they had a good bit as two men who talk about crying, with one Weir saying to the other that crying is a “big part of being a man.” But overall, the two Weirs struggled, gaining only sporadic laughter from the audience. This is not to say that “Jen and Steve” were hilarious.  Jen Curran and Steve Soroka are two extremely talented actors who, unfortunately, bring nothing new to one of the oldest shticks in comedy: the disgruntled married couple. When he makes fun of her weight, she says, “I look fat-tastic.  You look fag-tastic.” Later, he tells her that he has hated her “since the damn condom broke.” They were better when portraying a lawyer and defendant, and, later, a boss and his employee, but overall, their long-form improv tended to drag.  It was almost more drama than comedy. Still, “Jen and Steve” were more put-together than “We’re Matt Weir.”  They won the round.

SketchProv continues Sept. 23 through 25 at The People’s Improv Theatre. Reviews of more nights to appear soon.



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