Friday, Feb. 12, 2010

Broadminded: A Rehearsal

The sketch group rehearses the night before the opening of CONFESSIONS.

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Very Busy

What with things being as busy as they are this weekend, it was nice to get invited to local sketch group Broadminded’s latest show. What with things being as busy as they are this weekend, I could not, however, attend either Friday or Saturday night’s performances. The group was nice enough to let me sit in on last night’s rehearsal.

I’d gone there straight from a meeting with Jason Waszak. The actor will be making his directorial debut with a piece that I wrote for Sex, Drugs And The American Way . . . Pink Banana’s latest shorts program. Having met with Waszak, I’m much more excited about my short “Romantic Chemistry,” than I was when I wrote it. I sort of lost track of time talking to Waszak, so it was a huge relief to get to the Broadminded rehearsal with plenty of time to settle-in before it  started.

Broadminded

All-woman sketch comedy group Broadminded is something of an inadvertent Milwaukee stage secret. The four-woman stage group (aided in the booth by Jessica Betts) is always a lot of fun. Both accessible and sophisticated, Broadminded humor has the kind of wide-ranging appeal that could easily fill brief runs at some of the cities’ bigger theatrical venues. As the group is relatively unknown, it has a three-show series this year at one of Milwaukee’s smaller, hipper venues.

The first show of its new season, Confessions is a series of sketches centered around secrets, lies and other such things. Judging from last night’s rehearsal, not all of the material in the show is good, but most of it is excellent and there are a few moments in here that are absolutely brilliant. Opening tonight and running through February 27th,

Broadminded’s Confessions may end-up being the best stage comedy in Milwaukee for much of its run. It may not have the kind of huge budget and highly recognizable equity actors one will see in the Rep’s Almost, Maine (which closes this Sunday,) but the wild, sophisticated energy in Confessions makes it far more satisfying on an intellectual level . . . y’know . . . if you’re into that sort of thing.

Anne Graff LaDisa, Stacy Babl, Melissa Kingston and Megan McGee talked a bit before things got under way . . . there appears to be a really authentic friendship between the four of them, which is really the only way decent sketch comedy is going to work. The four of them also seem to have a genuinely clever sense of humor in casual conversation that’s really reassuring. Broadminded has a potential for plenty of material and there really doesn’t appear to be any kind of creative stagnation, which inevitably happens. With almost any group of funny people who work together. 

The show opens with a kind of an ambitious song and dance piece. It’s ambitious because it appears to be pretty solidly outside of the group’s usual stuff It looks like fun, though . . . a decent way to establish the title motif.

Last night they ran through it a few times. Aside from that, there were a few minor things that were still being worked out, but the rehearsal looked good. There’s a deliberate informality to a Broadminded performance . . . there’s no set, few props and very simple costuming. (The use of a hat generally designates when one of the women is playing a man, which works surprisingly well.)

There’s actually very little to get in the way of the comedy. Some of the better bits here involve a particularly clever take on multi-level marketing parties, a woman who will not lie attending a book club, and a job interview sketch with a particularly brilliant ending. There’s a really good comedic chemistry between the four women and even the least entertaining bits are at least well-executed. Precisely why the best stuff is brilliant . . . well, to get into that, I feel the need to go into another sub-heading . . .

Why It Works When It Works

When one is trying to explain what makes good comedy so good, one inevitably ends up sounding stilted, stentorian, and overall quite unhip. And since that’s neve stopped me before, here goes . . .

Broadminded’s best stuff in Confessions is both accessible and sophisticated. The best of it is sort of a three-part comedy. The first part is the overall premise . . . for instance: Melissa Kingston as a wannabe gangsta going to confessional. . . which is funny entirely on its own. It’s a superficial humor that works remarkably well. It’s fun. It’s funny. And you don’t have to think about it. Most of the best popular sketch comedy works on this level. The second part  is the more sophisticated humor that can be drawn from the premise. The implications of the premise end up being funny . . . there’s a lot of irony in a wannabe gangsta . . .someone who desperately wants to identify the danger at a confessional: a place where people go to be absolved of the very sins that the character sees as signifiers of status. The final part in the signature three-part comedy of Confessions is a punch line thrown in at the end—sort of a final kiss in the skit that signals the end of the piece. The wannabe gangsta is actually a really nice person who turns out to even be involved in charity work.

Wow. . . analyzing it sort of sucked the fun out of it. Please disregard the above paragraph. I promise to never do anything like that ever again.

Broadminded’s Confessions runs tonight through February 27th at the Alchemist Theatre.

 

And Lest I Forget

The Chicago-to-Milwaukee comedy Bye Bye Liver also opens tonight. Jason Waszak is featured somewhere in the cast. Didn’t get a chance to ask him about the show. It was kind of busy last night . . .

 

 

 

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