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By John Quinn
Posted: Sept. 15, 2012 at 3:02 p.m.
"The American political landscape in a mess and it's time to whip this country into shape." Do we really need a press release from an improvisational comedy troupe to tell us that? While much of the disenchanted electorate rail against the machine by exchanging obnoxious insults on Twitter and Facebook, the intrepid artists at Go Comedy! in Ferndale combat the general malaise with topical humor. "50 States of Grey" is a swift poke in the ribs of the body politic.
While improv and sketch comedies are always collaborations, "50 States of Grey" gives writing credits not only to the six-member cast, but also to director Pj Jacokes, assistant director James Quesada, stage manager Jessica Loria and a bevy of familiar names in the local comedy scene. This might seem like too many cooks for a show that runs less than 90 minutes, but that's the nature of the recipe. Mountains of comic ingredients are tried and discarded before the perfect blend of flavors is ready to be served. The comedy kitchen must have been really smokin' to turn out this hot, spicy fare.
The sketches are generally excellent, and the company leads with what might be their strongest material – a presidential debate that immediately devolves into sound bites and insults. Suitably subversive, the contenders' ethnicities are flip-flopped, with Joe Hingelberg portraying President Obama and the intrepid Dez Walker as Governor Romney. Introducing the characters in the first sketch allows them back for a sweet little coda at the end. In between, the troupe observes the foibles of the common culture, from a presidential candidate plagued by an under-educated press corps, to Suzie Jacokes's OB/GYN patient unable to describe her "female troubles" lest taboo words are used. Also memorable is Travis Pelto's take on a young man finally coming out to his parents, Steve Forbes and Carrie Parmenter. In a turn on stereotype, Pelto utterly blindsides the folks by admitting he's really straight.
Sketch comedy is always hit or miss; here the flat spot is a spoof of sequel-obsessed Hollywood, the trailer for "Thomas Jefferson, Werewolf Wrangler." It's a great premise, but ultimately it goes nowhere.
I love surprises. I didn't think, after 40 years of exposure to improvisation, that I could be surprised at Go Comedy! Yet the troupe segued into a session of traditional improv – winging it, with input from the audience – so smoothly that they were well into it before I caught on. Their homage to third-party campaigns is very sharp and remarkably funny – and if you weren't there opening night, you're not going to see what I saw. Improvisation is an ephemeral art form and it's never the same twice. Judging from the skills of these artists – in this bit especially Hingelberg, Forbes and Pelto – you're still in for a blast.
The most successful element of "50 States of Grey" is its light-hearted attitude toward issues many take way too seriously. The satire is neither partisan nor non-partisan – call it "equipartisan." There is a firmly defined theme that the ills of the nation stem from many causes, and, as is often observed, laughter is the best medicine.
It sure beats an apoplectic seizure over a Facebook flame.
SHOW DETAILS: "50 States of Grey" continues at Go Comedy! Improv Theater, 261 E. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale, Thursday-Friday at 8 p.m. through Nov. 3. Running time: 80 minutes. Tickets: $10-$15. For information: 248-327-0575 or www.gocomedy.net.
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