TheatreNOW’s current dinner theatre offering, “History of Comedy: Part 1,” comes as a partnership with one of Wilmington’s most prolific sketch comedy groups, Pineapple Shaped Lamps (PSL). It’s a logical one, too: PSL has been performing their monthly sketch show, “Pineapple Shaped Lamps Presents,” at TheatreNOW for most of 2013.
The title “History of Comedy: Part 1” makes an obvious allusion to the comic giant Mel Brooks, which should give the audience the first clue that they’re in for a smart and funny look at laughter across the 20th century. The 13 sketches include “BC”—Before Comedy. With the help of historian/narrator Ron Hasson, the show moves through each decade of the 20th century, offering introductions. Hasson is a rarity: one born to be a character actor. Give him a costume, a mask and an objective to creep out people with while making them laugh simultaneously, and he shines!
Starting with 1900 “Vaudvillecent,” the sketch depicts the struggles of a deaf mute (Jordan Mullaney) in Vaudeville. In 1910 Ricky “The Riot” Rizo (Ben Henson) treats the audience to what would be today’s standard of completely unacceptable jokes: sexist, racist, ethnocentric and homophobic. Of all the sketches, this one hits home most, perhaps because it’s the most unsettling. Part of the role of the jester or clown in society is to point out our own hypocrisies, and part of the purpose of history is to teach us from where we come. The reality is: In 1912, the jokes that Ricky “The Riot” Rizzo told would be considered tame and acceptable for middle-class society. That 8 minutes of material more than illustrates the changes in American entertainment and values than any history lesson before it.
With the 1920s comes the reign of silent films, and PSL produces a short black-and-white titled “Mimes in Terrible Situations.” Without a doubt, it’s the best part of the evening. Starring John Wolfe as a mime with bad judgment and worse luck, it’s written by Ben Henson, and offers elements of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplain. More so, it shows an infectious love of early cinema. In addition PSL actually filmed it themselves, and showing it on the big screen at TheatreNOW first-handedly distinguishes the difference between the live stage-show era of Vaudeville and the time of the silent screen. It is a nice touch which tremendously adds to the experience.
The middle part of the century suits me most. “Father Knows Best” showcases a sketch parodying 1950’s sitcoms thanks to a very straight-faced Brendan Carter. He plays an interesting blend of Robert Young and Dick Van Dyke, with sincerity and a pipe, advocating basic domestic violence as an antidote to his wife (Holly Cole) “thinking for herself.” Cole stuffs Donna Reed and June Cleever into one beautiful dress, with a sweet, thoughtful smile. Admittedly, I couldn’t wait for the ‘70s to arrive, so she could divorce him!
But, the show takes a side trip to Andy Warhol’s Laugh Factory, Folks who haven’t seen Ryan P.C. Trimble’s impression of Andy Warhol are missing out! Irreverent, ridiculous, but surprisingly accurate, it’s a wonder to behold and almost as alluring as his sponsor—“ham.”
Monty Python fans will relish in the show, too, as the troupe knows to whom they owe their allegiance. The ‘70s are devoted to Flying Circus in a sketch written by Trimble. It opens with the traditional “pet shop” set-up and then goes somewhere very strange—even slightly reminiscent of the book-shop sketch. Wesley Brown and Trimble are dressed as women in hats that only Terry Gilliam could love, and with voices that trigger any Python fan to expect a phone call to Sartre to sort out the meaning of his masterwork.
The Breaxsplosion Club (my date’s fave sketch) reimagines the iconic ‘80s teen drama “The Breakfast Club.” Action heroes fulfill teen-angst, thanks to the Terminator, Princess Lea, and Rambo, who find themselves in detention. The creative ideas sums up a lot of the era quite well. Jake Steward’s Terminator almost steals the show with his poetry. Seriously, the Terminator as a misunderstood poet might be worth the price of admission alone.
Chef Denise Gordon is fresh from her win of the silver award for Best Appetizer at Wilmington’s Epicurean Evening, and the dinner menu for this show sticks to homey basics—perfect for PSL’s already big following among college students. Ticket prices reflect strict budgets, too, wherein folks can enjoy both the show and dinner for Bacon cheeseburgers abound for carnivores (“meaty, cheesey, bacony and a burger—all things I can’t get at home!” my date reminded), while omnis can enjoy one of the best eggplant wraps (including feta, red peppers, caramelized onions and spinach). French fries and a couple of Highland Gaelic Ales will round out a great evening of food and entertainment. The a la carte dessert should never be refused and the chocolate mousse makes a lovely addition to the final sketch of the evening, which begs the question: “What is the future of comedy?”
If PSL is any indication, the future looks bright and healthy. Chef Denise Gordon’s outstanding fare—by far, the best I’ve had yet—makes it all the more delicious, too.
History of Comedy: Part 1
Corner of Dock and 10th streets
Aug. 30-31, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $25 (adults only) or $10 for comedy show, no dinner