By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
I’ve got nothing against sketch-comedy shows naming each bit with easel-mounted placards — these let us follow the program and, in the worst productions, the card stack gives us a rough idea of how much more
torture lies ahead. Nor can I think of any objection to a recurring sketch in which a bent-over actor is wheeled out with his bare buttocks, framed in a woman’s wig, forming a
monstrous face — what better way to remind us that we’re watching a spectacle called The (Magnificent) Ass Show, Maurissa Afanador’s celebration of the scatological, the silly and the plain gross. In the words of our maximum leader, “Bring ’em on!” Some highlights: A group of people sullenly plays a board game called Cunnilingus; a TV chef paralyzed with depression can barely fill air time by issuing meaningless instructions to his audience; a talking 16-pound ham tells children profoundly misanthropic stories.
The show’s got back, all right, but this San Francisco import, now at Theatre/Theater, will hardly be everyone’s cup of tea. There’s a flagrant, straws-up-the-nose childishness about the proceedings that not only can grow wearisome but also frustrates the show’s artistic reach; Afanador’s writing sometimes comes close, but she never quite provokes a laughter that is bigger than the sum of her gags. Two clowns standing on a stage can enact a fable like Waiting for Godot or they can spray seltzer water at each other for 90 minutes — Afanador settles for the seltzer. Her sketches, however, not only appeal to our prurient interests but also seem, mercifully enough, aimed at people with ADD — some whirl by with only a few words of dialogue, so they spare us the familiar pain of The Sketch That Wouldn’t End.
The numbers fall into three informal categories: social farce, smarmy farce and farty farce. Afanador comes closest to true satire in the first genre. Her delicate male college student (Avi Rothman) who denies being homosexual (that gay porn he acted in was only a job), along with a 15-year-old girl (Diza Diaz) who expresses her soul in an unintelligible hip-hop patois, and a blond cock-tease (Debbie McMahon) explaining her important role in male society — all graze the audience with the serrated edge of recognition. Even the more shticky stuff occasionally pulls a laugh from the most resistant. Who canremain unmoved by the sitcom sendup of “No Spine for Mommy,” as a completely limp Mom, her body slumped forward and head resting on a table, mumbles banalities to her kids as a laugh track bleats in the background? Or by the utter absurdity of a vaudeville entertainer (Neil Kaplan) trying to incorporate a grim-faced exile (Tate Ammons) from the Russian Revolution into his act?
Mostly, though, the evening favors the farty: Those tired sourpusses playing Cunnilingus: The Board Game who seemed doomed to eat out the same winner (Afanador) with every throw of the dice; and, of course, the ass on wheels, here named Annie Browntown, who communicates in an Esperanto of farts. (Credit Robb Mills with the sound effects, though the program notes are vague as to who exactly provides the moons for this show.) We in the audience have plenty to squirm over in these moments (not the least of which occurs when a viewer is brought onstage for a date with Miss Browntown), but you can squirm only so long before you wish you were being bored with a message.
The (Magnificent) Ass Show can’t be faulted for lack of showmanship. Its youthful ensemble seems game for anything, and director Kelvin Han Yee instills in it the importance of reacting to the situations and not to the audience reacting to the comedy. Oddly enough, though, while the show’s buzz promised a politically incorrect flavor, that taste turns out to be un-P.C. only in the very general sense that people are gleefully stereotyped.
These stereotypes, however, are the safe targets most suburban audiences would feel comfortable with — Afanador’s recurring white-trash breeder starts out promisingly enough in a scene with a talking fetus, but by show’s end her sketches (fittingly called “Perpetuating the Perpetuating Stereotype”) seem about as edgy as an old Carol Burnett Show. Likewise, the show presents a changing list of guest musicians, and while banjo player–singer Phil Van Tee, whom I saw, was pleasant enough, his barely audible ballads about William Mulholland and John Hardy are not going to win any iconoclast awards.
Afanador’s punch remains in her willingness to be gross, and the hairy-ass cartoon that hangs above the stage is a sure tip-off to her dedication. (Some of the evening’s sketches are credited to Frank Erfurth and others.) Her bio notes say she is a Northwestern alum who matriculated to both Chicago’s Second City and to Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which makes for an intriguing résumé and reflects an ongoing trend in which young and intelligent comedians are searching for lowlife inspirations in an effete country inured to shock. (Think of it: Ensemble member Courtney Fine gave up her job on NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s staff to come west to work in a show like this.)
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city