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To the Extreme: PSL parody high-brow theatre and more in sketch comedy show

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If you need a good laugh, the sketch comedy troupe Pineapple Shaped Lamps (PSL) can be depended upon every time.  Though most well known for their live sketch comedy shows and now their TV show “Sketch-22” on the CW, they also produce full-length shows of their own and other’s writing. In the past these have included “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog,” “Cannibal,” and now Joe Lo Truglio, Michael Showalter and David Wain’s “Sex: a.k.a. Wieners and Boobs,” currently playing at Big Dawg’s Cape Fear Playhouse. 

Directed by Holly Cole and written by the writing team behind the sketch comedy show “The State,” it is really a love letter to comedy and theatre lovers Combining elements of audience participation (I got a little carried away with how much fun the audience participation was), nods to Bob Fosse, “Oklahoma!” and a scene from Mamet, it pokes fun at the pretention of high-brow theatre, beginning with the open speech by its artistic director, Doniello, played by Zach Pappas. Doniello is excited to conduct a Q&A before the show that is a fabulous send-up of pretentious, very serious post performance Q&As. Pappas  mocks self-importance while managing to project it at the same, and had me in stiches with his overly articulated pronunciation of Moliere, Mamet, and “Q.”
Narrated by a spaghetti western character known only as “Old Timer” (Blake Howard),  “Sex a.k.a. Wieners and Boobs” takes place in Teaneck, NJ, a town overrun with hookers and gigolos—all owned and managed by Tad Theatreman (Patrick Basquill). Following the old story line, a new sheriff blows into town, Jack Greenberg (Brett J. Young), who decides he is going to clean up the area. But no one wants to help him. What to do?

Act I is populated primarily by the set-up of meeting the townsfolk; most of the cast play multiple roles. A few standouts: Wesley Brown as the cross-dressing geeky Deputy Flang, complete with Coke-bottle glasses and a parody of Don Knott’s voice that is extreme. Jake Steward’s Gerard (the husband of the sherriff’s love interest) is a confused and love-ridden astronaut trying to save a marriage with his delusional wife, Hillary (Rachel Helms). Tini Howard, in a wig reminisiant of Tracy Ullman from “Robin Hood Prince of Thieves,” presents the assortment of hookers available at her establishment. Ben Henson’s mayor manages to combine the best aspects of Leo McKern and Mr. Magoo. And of course Ryan P.C. Trimble’s Roberto offers an exchange student with a dark secret and a ridiculous accent (French taunters anyone?).

Much like an evening of sketch comedy, the show features ridiculous situations taken to the extreme, physicality that is heightened, and short but ridiculous scenes that pack a punch. Interspersed are moments that in their home context would be perfectly normal, but within the confines of this show they become absurd. The most obvious is the first scene of Act II.

The audience comes back from intermission to find that the show they were watching has been replaced with a scene from David Mamet (or “Mamay” as Doniello gives him the French pronunciation). Once the original play resumes we move into a dream sequence straight out of “Oklahoma!” which is far and away one of my favorite scenes onstage in years. Let me be clear: It is not the smooth, beautiful choreography of Jason Aycock re-creating Agens Demille. It is meant to be a parody. The young men representing Love, Dilemma, and Justice have not been studying ballet for 15 years and do not leap like Baryshnikov, but that’s not the point.  They actually try to sell the dance while still squeezing as much humor out of it as they can. It is a beautiful, fun, and a wonderful homage to the genre all at once.

Most clearly, everyone is having fun. Basquill’s Theatreman can barely hide his boyish grin, as he tries not to laugh at his own jokes.  Young and Helms, as the love interest, revel in the stylized parody of “Maverick” meets “I Love Lucy.” These two have a great rapport onstage (fans will remember Helms was Young’s interpreter during his vow of silence in a “Pineapple-Shaped Show”). Even though Helms’ character is trying to marry the sheriff before she’s obtained a divorce from her first husband, these two are flying on high energy and ridiculous joy that somehow makes the audience root for them.

The set is designed to clearly communicate what this is meant to be: a cartoon. Simple black lines painted on a yellow background creating knee-high doors that do not open, flanked by stylized trees, evoke sets from a ‘70s claymation TV show. After years of watching PSL preforming on the sets for other shows (which they beautifully poked fun at in the “Pineapple-Shaped Show”), it is nice to see them get a production together with their vision for a set, costumes, and a fully fleshed-out script that lets them play.

Given how busy PSL is with their new TV show, and their monthly sketch show (not to mention guest appearances), I was a little hesitant about their ability to focus and pull together a fully realized play in the midst of all their other commitments. As always, they surpassed my expectations. If you need to forget life’s woes and immerse yourself in a completely ridiculous evening of laughter, go see PSL’s interpretation of “Sex a.k.a Wieners and Boobs.” Or, as they point out: You can make Saturday a PSL day. See “Sex” at 8 p.m. live and then “Sketch-22” at 2 a.m. on the talky box at home.


Sex, a.k.a. Weiners and Boobs

March 20th-23rd, 27th-30th, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.
Cape Fear Playhouse • 613 Castle St.
Tickets: $10-$15 • 910-346-5237

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