I was at the Playground last night for 3 of the 4 shows.
My conclusions are below:
Late in their show at the TBS Just For Laughs show Wednesday night at the Playground WiseSnatch player Meg Johns said: “Somebody’s gotta get hurt. It’s the only way I’m satisfied.” This seemed as good a summary as any for a show that featured (among other things): a pregnant women being punched in the stomach repeatedly by her two friends while they road tripped to a blowjob workshop in Las Vegas, a boyfriend restrained by a girlfriend and her voyeur roommate while they inserted burnt matches into his penis and tree-house kids accusing one of their number’s dad of performing abortions in Iraq during wartime.
They started their show with a pledge to the audience of a ‘safe space.’ The significance of this became quickly apparent in the midst of their disturbed and often violent characters.
To generalize: Meg Johns played eccentric and weird, Rachel Farmer added conflict and stakes and Jo Scott provided the glue and enthusiasm. Conflict was full on display throughout the show and was played well by the ladies due to their fleshed out characters and relationships with high levels of detail and perspective.
That said, the perennial conflict that came from the frequent two on one dynamic seemed like it prevented the ladies from pushing their show to any kind of peak. Anger was played well, but it still seemed to sap the energy of some scenes (especially later in the show) and the performers themselves.
The most memorable scene for me was the one that avoided that two on one dynamic by simply being a two person scene. Jo and Rachel played Christian rapper brothers sitting in the studio making up rhymes. The scene had a completeness and satisfaction with its own presence that was noticeable amongst all the conflict and contempt present in the other scenes.
Wise Snatch seemed to run on huge energy, serious physical play, well developed characters but a continuous diet of conflict. Character motivations and identities clustered around a few topics but no real theme or message developed and the end of the show called back the first scene in a manner that seemed more mechanical than inspired. I have seldom seen such physical, energetic characters, I hope the next time I see them those characters put their energy into a world rather than just into attacking one another.
The Other Other Guys
The Other Other Guys did what they typically do: they took a simple sketch concept and exploded into a full featured show. The story of astronauts on an ill fated mission is brought to life through strong characters, seriously integrated bits and really amazing stage craft and theatricality.
The pleasure of watching the show is seeing the number of levels upon which the action on stage is taking place. From a non-linear ordering of scenes to a structure of flash backs and the frequent and excellent use of simple props to describe changes in scale, environment and state of mind, there was deep imagination and detail everywhere.
The best example of this last night was Brian McGovern’s role as the black attired anthropomorphized role as ‘space.’ Responsible for ensuring that props floated thru the air, for lifting astronauts testing out zero gravity and for operating the Dyson vacuum cleaner subbing in for a hole in the imaginary hull of the ship, Brian’s character becomes more than a force but a personality with a relationship to the action and characters on stage.
What the entire production screams is thought. There is a huge depth of dynamics and action in every scene and relationship and the show was continuously surprising and fun to watch. The production engages with the character’s vision of themselves, each other and the audience’s perception of each.
The home-made production value worked splendidly. It gave a looseness of imagination in depicting things and also gave the leeway to push certain games past their joke into full absurdity. I would happily watch this show again right now.
My Mann’s show was surprisingly linear, though seriously layered with game. A loose LaRonde style progression followed one character then another through a progression of scenes clustered around fathers and death. For most of the progression the character being followed (typically Mark Raterman) was a straightman (using the term loosely) facing various lunatics and absurdities. The show was structured like a ladder, straight up and then back down right thru the same scenes. The climax was watching the straight man become the curveball and beat the curveball at his own game (in this case, Mark beat Tim in a game of hockey played with canes as sticks).
It was the journey of the main character from sucker at the effect of the eccentricity to becoming the center fulcrum of the story and becoming a force instead of a reaction.
The staging was set around simple re-arrangments of the stage setup. This assisted the primary humor device at work: the piling of games and the heightening of them to absurdity. The effect of the games played as the piece progresses is assisted by the extent to which they are acknowledged and played harder as a result. This informs not only the interactions on stage (as in the continual small slap fights that occurred whenever Tim tried to touch Mark) as well as the actual scenic structure (the closing of the show with the “Dad Comedy Tour” standup act). The best example was the two of them on a journey using a map which turned out to be an actual photo of the stage setup blown up to map size. This is a great example of playing their game (the stage setup demonstrates which scene we are in) while acknowledging the game (we know you know that we are just on stage pretending) and using that to play the game harder (By the time we get over there we will be in that other scene we are traveling towards).