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Theatre Review: MadLab’s Sketchy Sex Fulfills Promises

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Theatre Review: MadLab’s Sketchy Sex Fulfills PromisesGreg McGill as Dwayne and Stephen Woosley as Harvey in "About Last Night," part of the MadLab Theatre production of "Sketchy Sex" Photo by Michelle Hanson.
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MadLab kicks off their 2017 season with Sketchy Sex which opened Thursday. It looks at sex and mating from a variety of perspectives – the program credits fourteen writers.

Collections of sketches are always mixed bags, and Sketchy Sex doesn’t avoid that fate. The technical elements, including Melissa Bair’s costumes and props, Brendan Michna’s set and lighting, and the video from Anna Leeper and Shane Stefanchik, work seamlessly. This technical acuity enables them to stuff in (I counted) at least ten skits and five commercials.

Sketchy Sex works best when they stick to (at most) a single twist and let the actors dig into the absurdity of the characters. A hysterically uncomfortable skit features Stephen Woosley and Greg McGill as plainclothes cops on a stakeout the night after their first drunken encounter. The exciting escalation and delivery drive that Starsky and Hutch parody over the top. McGill works similar terrain in a dazzling performance as a recovering office supply fetishist fighting and surrendering to his desires in a skit that runs a little long. The absurdism is heightened in a terrific sketch where Keith Jackson’s long-ago one-night stand is summoned to Cat McAlpine’s character’s apartment for a surprise that’s not what he’s expecting; the commitment of the two actors and the ambiguity about what happened made this my favorite sketch of the evening.

At its best, the writing understands the vagaries of human desire and the ways it doesn’t fall into neat boxes. Kyle Jepson, strong throughout, as a teacher and a deliciously sleazy “abstinence educator” played by Jim Azelvandre, have a delightful game of cat and mouse as she exposes his hypocrisy but bangs him anyway, even after he calls the clitoris an “urban myth.” Though when he responds to “Do you have a condom?” with “I’ve got the grace of God on my side,” still borrows one from her student. Colleen Dunne and Shana Kramer as lovers who want different things out of a relationship are splendid as a first run at bondage goes awry, teasing at a mini-Misery but showing both characters as likable.

The commercials are funny and well-made. Highlights include a particularly good parody/unveiling of Men’s movements, Chauvemist and Tiger Kitty, an ad for an app that replaces unsolicited dick pics with pictures of adorable kittens. The opening musical number with witty parody songs sung through vagina puppets sets the tone for the show nicely and the deadpan delivery of the actors, especially Dunne and McAlpine, is a treat.

Keith Jackson as Intruder #1, Cat McAlpine as Lara Croft, Nick Arganbright as Intruder #2, Colleen Dunne as The Egg, and Shane Stefanchik as Intruder #3 in "Lara Croft: Womb Raider," part of the MadLab Theatre production of "Sketchy Sex" Photo by Michelle Hanson. Keith Jackson as Intruder #1, Cat McAlpine as Lara Croft, Nick Arganbright as Intruder #2, Colleen Dunne as The Egg, and Shane Stefanchik as Intruder #3 in "Lara Croft: Womb Raider," part of the MadLab Theatre production of "Sketchy Sex" Photo by Michelle Hanson.

Keith Jackson as Intruder #1, Cat McAlpine as Lara Croft, Nick Arganbright as Intruder #2, Colleen Dunne as The Egg, and Shane Stefanchik as Intruder #3 in “Lara Croft: Womb Raider,” part of the MadLab Theatre production of “Sketchy Sex” Photo by Michelle Hanson.

Not everything works as well. While the pace keeps the show moving at a good clip on a macro level, it definitely could have used an editor to sharpen sketches for comedic punch and, incongruously, length. A sketch about adult breastfeeding with Shane Stefanchik and Becky Horseman telegraphs its punchline in the first three lines and then drags its one note on for minutes. The time-honored three-stereotypes on a game show Who Wants to Be a Feminist just fizzles out despite good performances from everyone in it. “Lara Croft, Womb Raider,” also starts promisingly but relies too heavily on McAlpine’s deadpan heroine and slow-motion fight choreography.

Sketchy Sex could stand to be shorter and distilled to a more potent proof. But when it lands, it’s a hearty dose of the voice and intensity that’s made MadLab so beloved to its fans.

Sketchy Sex runs through March 25 with performances at 8:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For tickets and more info, visit madlab.net/sketchy-sex.

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