Alcatraz is a cat with a serious attitude, and a lot of friends. These friends also have issues of their own, which all come out in the hilarious improvised puppet show Friends of Alcatraz. You read that correctly, its a puppet show.
Friends of Alcatraz begins with the titular cat (played by actor/director/designer Kelly Vrooman) explaining the format of the show. The stage for Friends of Alcatraz is set up with a camera so that the audience may watch the puppeteers on their left, or a screen showing just the puppet action to the right. The set up lets the actors play with the space and the camera to make for an extremely visually interesting show. The cast uses the depth of the stage and the different size of puppets to fill in background characters and create a complete visual world around the puppet work, and audiences can see how they do it for themselves.
The technical work is just one of the excellent aspects of this show. The cast (Vrooman, along with Joe Sabatino, Jason Stockdale, Rob Cutler, and Dave Jadico) does a great job bringing the puppets to life and giving them each a depth and soul beyond their plush exterior. The design of the puppets helps in this, each crafted with a unique look that seems to draw the characters’ voices and personas out of the actors.
An audience member’s suggestion of “a breakup” when asked for something incredible that recently happend to them initially drew ridicule from Alcatraz the cat, but lead to a show full of relationships with their ups and downs, break-ups and make-ups and big laughs throughout.
Friends of Alcatraz is an extremely unique theater experience and is thoroughly satisfying for it’s comedy, showmanship, and presentation. Here’s hoping the end of it’s Fringe Festival run is not the last we see of Alcatraz and the gang.
Philadelphia improv group Tongue & Groove debuted its’ new show, “Six” at this year’s fringe festival. The show’s name is derived from the way the group gets suggestions from the audience, via cards with six word autobiographies. These short blurbs are used by the members of the ensemble to create rich characters with deep relationships between each other as well as set scenes, perform character monologues, and play improv games.
The members of Tongue & Groove have developed a improvisational style that they describe as “serio-comic, realism based, ‘Actors Improv’” in which they focus on the relationship between the characters in the scene, to dramatic and hilarious effect. Whether the scene was serious or comedic, or a mixture of both, it was constantly interesting to watch the interaction between the players.
The show began with each actor reading a card with a six word biography written by an audience member for inspiration. The scenes started with a bang as cast members Ed Miller and Casey Spaulding jumped into each others arms for an intense make-out session which led to a scene exploring the amusing perils of young love. Other recurring characters and scenes included Frederick Anderson and Beth Dougherty as actors waiting to go on an audition who slowly develop an admiration for each other, Dougherty and Bobbi Block as a couple in trouble after Dougherty loses her job as a lawyer and takes work in at a hippy farmers market, and Block and Josh Rubinstein as siblings who never really got along having to deal with the declining health of their mother. All of the scenes showcased the group’s ability to mix realistic deep relationships showcasing the funny moments in the drama of everyday life.
The scenes were interspersed with monologues from characters created from more of the six word biographies, actors creating their own six word bios from a single word suggestion, some improv games, and larger group scenes. The show wrapped up with the actors in a line in the front of the stage, each taking turns reciting memorable lines from the characters they portrayed during the show.
Considering the show was filled with rich characters, deep relationships, and moments of honest hilarity each one of the members of the cast had a lot to return to in the closing. With “Six” Tongue & Groove was able to take six words and create a full world of people you grew to care about, feel for, and laugh with.
At the very beginning of Meat Man, the Narrator, played with a natural charm by Nathan Edmondson informs the audience that the story he is about to tell contains all the familiar old tropes. His promise does not fall flat, as the show contains everything he claims in his opening monologue: a man and a woman separated by an idea but drawn together by love, a third party trying to keep the two apart, and more themes anyone who’s ever watched a musical will recognize instantly. The narrator also promises something new, which is also delivered by the cast of this musical comedy.
The musical genre is sent up on an hilarious ride by co-writers Erin Davis and Eric Zrinsky in their tale about a town inhabited by meat-eaters stuck in their ways, an influx of “militant vegans” and two star-crossed lovers caught in between their beliefs and their budding romance.
Michael Melton plays the titular Meat Man, beloved by the members of his community for his peddling of all the savory treats their watering mouths can handle. Emily Grove as Violent Violet catches his eye as “fresh meat” even though the townspeople warn him of her radical vegan ways. Violet is planning to protest The Carnivores Carnival, the day of the year where all the townspeople gather to eat meat and “play meat games” and celebrate all things fleshy.
Here starts the ride of the Meat Man’s courtship and Violent Violet’s tug-of-war with her beliefs and her feelings. The show is filled with a variety of musical styles, sharp choreography, and meat puns and innuendo galore.
The cast obviously has fun performing and the sold out crowd at Saturday afternoon’s show ate up every morsel served up by the actors. All of the supporting actors draw double duty as both the stubborn old townsfolk and the new thinking vegan members of the community. The musical talents and range of the performers shine through different styles of song and dance.
Meat Man is a fun ride for anyone looking for a good musical, comedy, or a well crafted dick joke in the form of a song.
Meat Man plays two more times at the Mainstage at the Adrienne Theater, Sunday September 11 at 10pm, and Tuesday September 13 at 10pm. Tickets can be purchased online. The first ever screning of Meat Man: The Movie will be held Sunday September 18 at 6pm at The Urban Saloon. Visit Reel 9 Productions for more information.
Twenty-four is an improv show in real time. There are no cuts or edits, no jumps in time or space. All of the action takes place in one location in the same amount of time it takes to watch the show. The format leads to the actors being able to portray rich characters and develop deep relationships in the twenty four minutes they are together on stage. Last night, the cast of this Philly Improv Theater Fringe production put those skills on display expertly.
Twenty-four is a two act show, with the cast performing two separate monoscenes. Last night’s performance featured two halves that showed off the cast member’s range of styles and characters. The first scene took place in a hospital where a cast of characters all waited for their mutual acquaintance, played by Emily Davis, to give birth to her child. The story revealed a busy career woman, eager for her baby to arrive so that she may return to work and the people in her lives effected by her lifestyle. Her sperm donor (Mike Marbach) was curiously present at the hospital, while it was later revealed by her sister (Cait O’Driscoll) that there may be something more than just a one time donation going on. The future nanny of the child (Jessica Ross) handed out balloons and worried if she would be a good fit to take care of the child. The “facilitator” of the sperm donation (Bobbi Block) continued her role in the hospital as she calmed people down and was there to lend a helping hand in all the madness. The mother-to-be’s assistant (Becca Trabin) came to deliver a present from the office, and ended up delivering something far more important (the baby!) All the action took place while an in-over-her-head candy stripe (Corin Wells) raced around a hospital she seemed to be the only employee of.
The strengths of the first act were in the strong character choices made by the cast. Each improvisor brought their own idea to their character and stuck with it to the end. Emily Davis showed the non stop work ethic of her career driven character even in the last moments of pregnancy. Mike Marbach did his best to remain supportive of the mother of his child even while those around him questioned their relationship. Corin Wells was overworked and exhausted as the seventeen-year-old candy stripe just trying to get community service hours so she can graduate. Becca Trabin portrayed the do-all assistant of a powerful business woman hilariously, showing how prepared one would have to be to be the right hand woman of a non stop workaholic.
The second act begins with director Steve Kleinedler telling the audience that a character of their choice will return for the second scene, and all the other actors would portray someone new. Becca Trabin’s character was selected by one audience member, to cheers of approval from others. The second scene took place in a beauty salon while the patrons prepared for their prom, or “practice wedding” or were just there to have their hair done by the saucy salon staff. The first act of last night’s show had characters entering and exiting the scene fluidly, changing focus and centering on different relationships at different times while the second act had more convergence. The scene began will all but one character (Marc Reber‘s salon worker – who would soon enter) on stage. Most of the performers were all on stage and in the scene at the same time, and the cast members handled the crowded scene excellently. Most of the time the conversation took place between a few characters while the rest of the cast patiently waited, flipping through magazines, or styling hair – but a few times, the stage was full of action with multiple conversations happening at once. The performers were adept, not letting the conversations become just a jumble of noise, but speaking up and quieting down to let the audience key in on the funny parts of what they each were saying.
Twenty-four is a sharply put together show with a diverse, skilled cast of improvisors that will make you care about the characters, draw you in to this moment in their lives, and make you laugh along the way.
There are still three chances to see twenty-four, tonight at 5pm, Tuesday, September 13 at 7pm, and Friday, September 16 at 830pm. All shows are at the Mainstage of the Adrienne Theater. Tickets can be purchased online.
This time, when the lights go out on the cast on stage at the Adrienne Theater, it means the show is about to begin. Dark Comedy is Philly Improv Theater’s take on the famous Chicago improv format “the bat,” in which all of the improvising takes place in total darkness. The format allows the audience to use their imaginations along with the actors as the characters and scenes created by the performers on stage come to life in the brains of those in attendance. Think live action radio play all made up on the spot in front of your…ears.
The atmosphere and scene locations are set by the cast, who act as their own foley artists, providing sound effects and background noise for the world they create. In last night’s show, the audience suggestion of “autumn” sent the cast into a fury of whirling winds which organically evolved into the sounds of animals on a farm and a creaking gate. This inspired the first scene of a forgetful, paranoid wife, her angry husband, and their curious baby played hilariously by Brian Ratcliffe, Alan Williams, and Rachel Semigran. The second scene involved a wise, old Sushi chef (played by Andrew Stanton) and an eager young apprentice (Hillary Rae) chomping at the bit to learn the secrets of being a true master. The third scene featured three lumberjacks (Adam Siry, Shannon DeVido and Alan Kaufman) and their attempt to do their job while being confronted by conservationists.
The group weaved between scenes with scene painting sound effect transitions, giving the audience (and their fellow improvisors) a chance to picture the setting in their minds before the scene began. Each set of characters was revisited two more times, with increasing stakes, and hilarity.
The support the cast members show each other in their sound effect work makes Dark Comedy a fun and fulfilling experience. The scenes come to life thanks to the help of everyone in the cast filling in where your eyes cannot. Animals on the farm, knives cutting flesh, and zombies chomping brains all had the chance to be seen last night – if only in the imagination.
Dark Comedy plays once more on the main stage at the Adrienne Theater, this Saturday, at 1130pm. You can purchase tickets online.
Much can be, and has been, said about the Ministry of Secret Jokes. I was present for the show on August 8th, and since there was no oath taken beforehand, I am free to reveal events of the evening.
Below are the first and last words from each comedian who appeared on stage:
Comedian : First word / Last word
Steve Gerben: Hello / Story
Doogie Horner: Thank / Night
Chip Chantry: Hey / You
John McKeever: Give / Attention
Micah McGraw: Hi / Yeah
Baby Doug McGraw: Is / Ok
Corey Cohen: Yeah / Phone
Conrad Roth: Thanks / Horner
Bing Supernova: More / Not
David Terruso: Hello / Much
Black Wexler: You / Mother
Brendan Kennedy: Something / University
It should be noted, some of the performers appeared on stage multiple times through out the night. The words listed are their first from when they first spoke into a microphone, last words are final words spoken in the entire evening.
Joe Moore is a comedy fan and sometimes-performer. You can follow him on Twitter.
On Wednesday July 27th, a packed Shubin Theater witnessed the dawning of a new era – Jim Grammond’s “Reasonable Discourse with Jerks”. For the unlucky ones who weren’t able to secure a ticket, here is what the host and his four panelists were wearing:
Jim Grammond – An orange, black, yellow, green plaid collared shirt with short sleeves, 5 buttons buttoned, one button left undone at the top showing a white under shirt, blue jeans, grey and white sneakers with a large “N” on both sides of each.
John Kensil – Grey button down short sleeved shirt, 5 buttons buttoned, one undone at the top, no undershirt, a necklace with a cross, blue jeans, white sneakers with some black, wrist watch on left wrist.
Blake Wexler – White soccer jersey 3 buttons unbuttoned, with an embroidered small red diamond inside of a larger red diamond over the right breast, a patch on the left breast with 3 blue lions and 10 red “O” shapes under a small white star, a grey undershirt, brown shorts, white ankle-high socks with 3 black bars on each, orange/red, black and white sneakers with the letter “N” on both side of each shoe.
Mary Radzinski – A black blouse with wide arms and a neckline that went to the shoulders, silver feather pendant on a silver chain necklace, silver slippers, dark blue jeans, red bracelet on the left wrist.
Mike Rainey – Black t shirt with a white Philadelphia Flyers logo, with the word “FRESH” in all capital letters underneath also in white type, light blue jeans, black, grey and white sneakers with a grey wavy line on the side.
(A note from the author: By the time Luke reads this, he very well may be in a different time zone, embarking on a new chapter in his life. Luke Giordano has been extremely gracious towards me, inviting me onto “The Bully Pulpit”, letting me write and post on this very website, and being a terrific friend. I’m not sure why he encouraged me as much as he did, but I’m secretly glad for it. Without getting embarrassingly personal, I think there is more of what is “funny” inside of Luke than anyone – myself and Luke included – can comprehend yet, and I can’t wait to see how well he does out there. As a sign of thanks to Luke, I’d like to send him off the only way I know how… )
The following is a brief, fair and balanced run-down of what each comedian at the Trashing of Luke Giordano wore on July 5th, 2011 at the Shubin Theater:
Luke Giordano – Beige/light-brown jacket over a white dress-shirt all buttoned except the top two; lightly-worn blue jeans with a hole in the left pant leg; beige canvas shoes with white soles.
Brendan Kennedy – Black t-shirt under a black short-sleeve, button-down shirt (un-buttoned); light brown cargo shorts; Black shoes with black socks.
James Hesky – White dress-shirt with thin black stripes 1 shirt-pocket on the left; grey pants; black, grey and white sneakers
Mary Radzinski – Grey shirt under a black cloak that ended at the elbows, one button buttoned; blue jeans; golden flip-flops; black hair tie on the left wrist; 2 large silver rings – one on each hand.
Greg Maughan – blue and white checkered shirt, sleeves rolled up to the elbow, un tucked, with top two buttons unbuttoned; dark blue T-shirt underneath; blue jeans; grey, white and black running shoes; silver watch on left hand.
Pat Barker – Dark red polo with only the lowest button buttoned; blue jeans; black sneakers with white Michael Jordan logo.
Doogie Horner – Grey t-shirt; white boat shoes with no socks; long khaki pants.
JP Boudwin – Tan/Brown and white checkered shirt, un-tucked and with pearl buttons buttoned up excepting the top two; grey t-shirt underneath; black jeans; black/dark brown shoes.
Aaron Hertzog – Black and white checkered shirt with thin red and green lines rolled to the elbow’s 2 pockets; blue jeans; black canvas sneakers white soles and white laces.
Mike Rainey – Black polo untucked and unbuttoned; white t-shirt underneath; blue jeans; white/orange/black/grey running shoes.
Billy Bob Thompson – Dark blue t-shirt; grey/blackish jeans; black belt with a silver buckle; dark-brown/light-brown/white sneakers.
Christian Alsis – Black, grey and white short sleeved flannel with 2 shirt-pockets, black buttons, buttoned up excepting the top-most button; white t-shirt underneath; black pants; black and white Nike sneakers.
Rob Baniewicz – White dress-shirt, buttoned to the top, sleeves rolled to just below the elbow two length-wise seams on the front of the shirt; a yellow, white and green tie; dark blue jeans; blue/grey canvas shoes, white soles, no laces.
Roger C. Snair – Red, green, yellow checkered shirt; khaki shorts; black socks; black shoes with velcro straps; a camo hunting bush hat with draw string.
Thanks for everything Luke, best of luck.