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LOU'S VIEWS: New comedy group carries a big schtick

Lou Harry
January 19, 2009
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Lou Harry

Big laughs erupted repeatedly from the overflowing crowd on opening night of sketch comedy group Three Dollar Bill's premiere revue "Fiddle Schticks."

Now, big laughs can be a sign of friends and family around—and clearly the local sextet wasn't performing in front of a house of strangers. But f-and-f laughter can only go so far before it sounds strained. And that never happened in this evening of original material.

Three Dollar Bill consists of five men (each and every likable one could have been in the casting pool for Jim on "The Office") and one woman (Claire Wilcher, whose praises I've sung in these pages for her theater work elsewhere) and there's not a weak member in the bunch. Nobody seems to be hogging the spotlight. And, as important, nobody seems unworthy of it.

The sketches—about 20 or so of them—tended to start with familiar premises: A robbery gone wrong, an ideological battle between neighbors, a coach trying to rouse a lackluster football team (it doesn't help that the team has only three players). But time and time again, Three Dollar Bill earned its laughs through carefully chosen, sharply crafted lines. I'd share a few here, but they wouldn't work out of context. Is it funny in print to recall an undercover cop making a mess out of a would-be cocaine buy when he answers the question "How much?" with a deadpan, "One, please."

FYI: The company states clearly that its show is for ages 17 and up. That's more for language than anything else. Also, while the performances are at the ComedySportz Theatre, this is an independent troupe. Unlike CS, there is no audience participation, so keep your suggestions to yourself (and don't fear front row seats).

Where Three Dollar Bill could still use work is on finding the core truth of some scenes. It isn't clear, for instance, whether the troupe of improv actors in the church camp scene that opens and closes the show are true believers or not. And it makes a difference. A scene set at the Indiana BMV lacked clarity. And a promising Star Trek piece rambled on too long past its peak. One of the advantages of the show's format, though, is that sketches can be tweaked, rearranged or eliminated before the next performance. As such, the show I saw on opening night will be different than the one you see this weekend.

With that emphasis on revision and evolution, the group seems to have creative instincts to match its talent. Which makes me not just happy to recommend "Fiddle Schticks," but also bullish on the long-term value of Three Dollar Bill.

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It's January, which means the Beef & Boards stage has been turned over to a no-holds-barred bedroom farce. The choice this time is "Don't Dress for Dinner" which, if you are a B&B stalwart, is likely to blend in your memory with last season's "Run for Your Wife," which featured the same core quartet of comedic actors.

French playwright Marc Camoletti (adapted by Robin Hawdon) seems to realize that there is no need for laughs in the show's first 10 minutes, which is all used for set up. The audience needs to understand that the husband is sending his wife away to her mother's so that he can spend time with his mistress. It needs to know that the visiting friend is just there as an alibi. And it needs to know that the best friend is having an affair with the wife. It needs to know which of the characters thinks the woman from the catering company is the mistress and who doesn't. And then the show needs to complicate matters by any means necessary. Which it does.

The women—Jill Kelly and Sarah Hund—actually come across better this time around. Rather than passive victims of deception, the two are active participants in the web of lies and, thus, "Don't Dress for Dinner" becomes a battle of near equals. Lying, cheating equals, but equals nonetheless.

Early in the run, there were still a few moments when it was clear that actors were ending up in certain positions by directorial design rather than by nature. And the show's second act gets far too explanatory -- an occupational hazard with farces. But the aforementioned actresses—and Eddie Curry and Jeff Stockberger as the desperately covering up gents—earn their laughs honestly.

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Dance Kaleidoscope's revival of its 2007 "Magical Mystery Tour" (Jan. 8-11) is an easily accessible program that offered nothing to take you to the edge of your seat, but it was solid and engaging nonetheless. It was the kind of show that would make the uninitiated say "You know what? I actually liked that."

Loosely structured with first act "Innocence" and second act "Decadence," (although the innocence was closer to naivete and the decadence pretty mild), the ride from "Here Comes the Sun" through "Let It Be" seemed ephemeral by design. I could almost sense the choreographic "let's try this next" rather than a deliberate effort to get to a particular point or pose.

As such, the punch was muted but the journey often lovely. Larry Glover's expert lighting once again subtly guided the eye while Barry Doss' over-the-top costuming—including massive butterfly wings—sometimes distracted from and sometimes enhanced the dancers' movements.

DK vets Kenoth Shane Patton and Liberty Harris carried the weight of the show's loose "journey" narrative, but their placement at the center of the action unintentionally came across as showboating—a shame, since both did terrific work throughout. In contrast, spunky Jillian Godwin was a welcome addition whenever she appeared. And long-limbed DK newcomer Morgan Williams gave reason to believe that great things could be ahead.

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After sitting through "Happy Days: A New Musical" at Clowes Hall (Jan. 13-18), I've got just one word: Why?

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