You’ll laugh, you’ll cry 

Skits, sketches, bitches, Newfies, princesses and Abe Lincoln

click to enlarge HUGHES FIORETTI PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Hughes Fioretti Photography

My Friend in a Sketch Show

Pink Venue
9:40 p.m. Thursday, 10:25 p.m. Saturday, 6:10 p.m. Sunday

More Skits ’n Giggles

Yellow Venue
11:10 p.m. Thursday, 6 p.m. Friday, noon Sunday

Dying Hard

Patrons Room
7 p.m. Friday, 2:50 p.m. Sunday

Bitches of the Kingdom

Orange Venue
9:50 p.m. Wednesday, 9:05 p.m. Friday, 4:20 p.m. Saturday

In my Fringe preview last week, I somehow confused More Skits ’n Giggles with My Friend in a Sketch Show – the worst mistake I’ve made in the last 10 years that didn’t involve my barber. Compounding my guilt, the show I had meant to direct you toward, My Friend in a Sketch Show, simply shouldn’t be overlooked; it’s a sure bet for anybody with even a vestige of a funny bone. Seven equally talented performers commit to winning skits based on timely topics like the Bin Laden killing, the Spider-Man musical and even the Rapture (which was pretty big last weekend, as you’ll recall). In between, they improvise writers’-room scenarios in which they “brainstorm” the very sketches we’re seeing. So much for the old saw that the easiest way to kill comedy is to talk about it; the easy chemistry this septet oozes (built up over years of performing together at venues like SAK and the Comedy Warehouse) makes you feel as if you’re in a room with the funniest people you know, without even a hint of the misanthropy that would probably entail. The entire cast rises to the occasion to deliver a program that’s conceptual but not precious about it; irreverent yet not distasteful; and self-aware instead of self-enamored.

A few honest laughs notwithstanding, More Skits ‘n Giggles is a wildly inconsistent series of bits that’s also over-conceptualized, frustratingly self-referential and makes inadequate use of the terrific Janine Klein. The introduction, delivered by the Abe Lincoln of the Magic Kingdom’s Hall of Presidents, is a clear and unquestioned highlight; from there, it’s largely downhill as the cast fires off gags that are meant to be “edgy” but often instead come across as nasty and/or creepy. To paraphrase the real Honest Abe, people who like this sort of thing may find that this is the sort of thing they do not like.

A corona of sincerity surrounds Dying Hard,Canadian performer Mikaela Dyke’s ethnographic portrait of six lives touched by tragedy. With only the most minimal of costume changes, Dyke assumes the personae of four of the men who sacrificed their health in the mines of Newfoundland in the mid-20th century – and two of the wives who were left to pick up the pieces.

Clichéd though it sounds, you can actually see the characters come to life in front of you, thanks to Dyke’s impressive command of mannerisms both verbal and physical. (I was particularly affected by one miner’s habit of flashing a fatigued but disarming smile whenever his story took another turn for the horrific.) The thick dialects occasionally obscure the true-life monologues, but Dyke is still entirely successful in giving these people back the dignity they were denied by an unfeeling industry.

I shouldn’t have worried that a local audience that’s already gagging on pixie dust might not respond fully to the Oops Guys’ Bitches of the Kingdom, in which nine pissed-off Disney princesses sing out their dissatisfaction with their lot as 2-D icons.

As I now realize, any such audience is likely to include at least a few actual park performers – some of whom have even been felt up on the job! – thus ensuring an hour’s worth of foot-stomping, gut-busting catharsis. It helps that the show is practically a tour de force of composition and pacing and that the immensely gifted ensemble sells the material like it’s band candy. Yet director Fiely Matias and writer Dennis Giacino have also wisely made room for a few moments of gentle, wide-eyed introspection, hinting that the true goal of their playful mockery is not to condemn, but to question and ultimately comfort. That crucial distinction is what makes them the standard-bearers of the Orlando Fringe – now, and maybe forever after.

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