Fake Brothers Productions—made up of Caylan McKay, Ethan Sigmon and Patrick Basquill—presents “Beasts, with Two Backs” at City Stage every Thursday through Feb. 4. At first glance, this whole experience defies explanation. But, upon reflection, I think there is another way to try to make sense of it—with the help of the grandmaster of funky situations himself, George Clinton.
In 2004 Jock and I were at a George Clinton concert in Tennessee. As Jock gazed in bafflement at the antics onstage, I leaned in and asked him if he had ever encountered such well-rehearsed, perfectly choreographed chaos before? After a few moments he responded that it took a bit to put it together, but, yes, this was all planned.
This is what best describes “Beasts, with Two Backs” … sort of. The name seems like a fitting place to start: a Shakespearean reference to sex, which warns the audience the show will be raunchy (and it is). In addition, it is essentially two separate shows that have come together for one confused and passionate night. So, it is aptly named.
The first half is mostly scripted; the second is composed of a series of long-form improvs built out of themes from the first half. When many people think about sketch comedy “Saturday Night Live” is probably the first image that jumps to mind. Nothing in “Beasts, with Two Backs” is as clear and well-packaged as “SNL.” It is far more chaotic—rather like an awkward date destined to end with two confused people staring at each other the next morning (I kept picturing Nietzsche and John Cleese, personally).
Improv is usually discussed as either long form or short form. Long-form improv aims toward a narrative scene structure that should incorporate certain pre-agreed upon plot elements (frequently suggested from the audience).
Basquill and McKay, two young men in their 20s, have grown up (literally) in Wilmington’s theatre world. Last year, along with Sigmon, they formalized their long-time coloration with a name: Fake Brothers. Toward the end of 2015, they began producing sketch shows at different downtown venues and announced a six-week run at City Stage for the beginning of 2016. If anyone is thinking of Changing Channels (City Stage’s former weekly comedy sketch show, now revived annually at TheatreNOW) or Pineapple-Shaped Lamps (our nationally recognized sketch and shadow cast troupe) as a point of comparison, then, don’t. This is an entirely different beast.
To begin with, there is an onstage band to score the show. Music director Will Small also plays keyboards, as multi-talented musical heartthrob Justin Lacy plays guitar, with Phil Covington keeping the rhythm of the show moving forward on drums. John Larkins surprises everyone with the under-appreciated ukulele, while Dorothy Reynolds runs back and forth from her cello to the action—demonstrating that Wonder Woman is not just a cartoon character but can be found alive and well at City Stage on Thursday nights. She cracks a joke, improvs dialogue and plays a stringed instrument almost simultaneously.
Much of the show is musical. Basquill has built a reputation in recent years for his beautiful singing voice. In theory, there is a (loose) plot of sorts: Caylan’s character’s dad (Adrian Monte) is an awful person. Caylan and Patrick cook up some sort revenge that involves baked goods and flowers at Whole Foods. There is some sort of subplot going on with the Whole Foods staff (Ashley Burton, Ryan P. C. Trimble and Dorothy Reynolds) regarding dating (again, sort of). Meanwhile, Joshua Sullivan visits the doctor only to be abandoned in the exam room. Interspersed are essentially commercials for Taco Tuesday and Patrick trying to help Caylan pick up a girl from the audience.
All of it leads to the long-form improv of the second half (again, sort of). Caylan attempts to have a first date/interview with the young lady from the audience (which one friend described as the mirror of online dating). The improv component makes sense for this cast: Adrian Monte hails from The Other Side, a now defunct long-form improv troupe form the ‘90s/early 2000s. Ryan P.C. Trimble is a member of Four-Prov (a floating improv troupe). McKay and Basquill both performed with Nutt House, the in-house improv team for Nutt St. Comedy.
Actually, getting to see Monte onstage again is perhaps the best surprise of the evening. Monte has been a fixture here for many years but left for distant lands. His return to the stage, and his phenomenal improv skills, are like the best part of Valentine’s Day: You managed to live without it the years you were alone, but now that someone is back, it really is a whole lot better!
Perhaps like Parliament-Funkadelic, Fake Brothers’ ability to assemble a team that complements each other is the real skill. Monte has the height, gravitas, age, and experience to play older adults. Trimble creates characters that are fabulous parodies of “SNL” characters. Sullivan is the great contrarian to McKay and Basquill’s almost telepathic bond and agreement. Dorothy Reynolds not only gets into the gutter with the guys, but also reminds them women are smart and talented people. The model, gorgeous Ashley Burton, has moved beyond the world of serious drama into the land of comedy through the lens of teenage boys. I give her credit because she keeps up and even gives them back more than they expect. All and all, they complement each other well and surprise the audience constantly. Again, much like P-Funk it looks haphazard, but there truly is a method to this madness—somewhere.
“So what did you think?” a friend asked me after the show.
“I thought it was very silly,” I answered, as flashes of Monty Python’s Election Night Special darted through my mind. “And that was the point. So all objectives achieved.”
Fun performers, creative, new ideas, and ridiculous surprises combine to truly capture the nature of the uber silly. Audiences have two more chances to see it on Thursday, Jan. 28 or Feb. 4.