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By Donald V. Calamia
Few theaters in Southeast Michigan have done more in recent years to encourage, develop and stage new works by local up-and-coming artists than Hamtramck's Planet Ant Theatre. Many - if not most - have come from the fertile imaginations of the area's improv community, and critical response has generally been quite favorable. In fact, since 2004, 15 original comedies have received Wilde Awards nominations for Best Production, and a few - Joseph Zettelmaier's All Childish Things and Lauren Bickers' Danceical: The Musical - have had subsequent productions elsewhere.
The Ant's latest original comedy, A Very Ced n Teri Xmas, has taken a different route to the stage, however.
Originally conceived late last year by the Ant's Mikey Brown as an almost-monthly Web-only sitcom, Ced n Teri features the adventures of two TV-and-weed-loving couch potatoes. Cedrick (played by Brown) - a pizza delivery guy who showed up at the wrong address and never left - and the always-brooding Teri (Sarah Switanowski) never leave the comforts of her couch. Yet in each episode they interact with an eclectic assortment of neighbors, friends and strangers who drop by for a quick visit. Spoofs of infomercials and cable TV shows on their always-blaring television set are fodder for much of the series' humor.
Each well-crafted episode - timed to run exactly 4:20 minutes, a "cannabis friendly" reference - features appearances by familiar faces from the improv community, plus musical numbers by some of the area's best bands.
A small, cult-like following has developed around the 10-episode series - and for good reason: Each chapter has plenty of funny moments. Plus, viewers eagerly look forward to appearances by Nancy Hayden (as the racially confused mail lady) and Jaime Moyer (as a Southern Christian cooking show host), two of the series' delightful guest performers.
But how well would the concept translate from a five-minute video show to a two-act stage play, I wondered. And on opening night I discovered the answer: Quite well, actually.
In A Very Ced n Teri Xmas, we find the two in a new house and on a different couch, following their eviction in Webisode 10. (Teri refused to marry her Eastern European landlord's nerdy nephew in a ploy to gain permanent residency.) Jobless and just weeks before Christmas, the two have no money for weed, let alone presents. So what will the slackers do?
Those unfamiliar with the Web series will have no problem following the plot, as video flashbacks fill in much of the series' back-story. But the show's funniest (and best conceived) moments come from the numerous - and sometimes interactive - videos that weave in and out of the plot.
In a spoof of the Discovery Channel's Man vs. Wild series, Brown is excellent as adventurer/host Bear Grylls, lost somewhere in the wilds of Michigan.
Later, Bickers - in a curly, blonde wig – perfectly captures the typically overwrought and wronged woman in a preview of the Lifetime Special, Love's Brutal Affair.
And both Hayden and Moyer return to generate laughs as their signature characters in the series.
But the best-executed video tells the story of a restaurant worker (Inga Wilson) who believes she's being stalked by the wife (Anne Faba) of a man with whom she's having an affair (Shawn Handlon). The plot is filled with several fun twists and turns, and the performances are uniformly fine. And Brown's videography and editing are excellent. (One quick bit is especially notable, which generated plenty of laughs on opening night.)
A handful of other scenes are also quite funny, including a spoof of super-heroes featuring Dave Davies, and a musical number sung by the Three Wise Men. (Plus, any appearance by Michael Rollin as Jesus is always appreciated - no matter how brief!)
Not every moment is a gem, however. Nor is the humor universal. (I suspect there will be some who may not appreciate the subject matter.) Yet the move from screen to stage works well - and so too, I suspect, will a jump back to the small screen, thanks to the groundwork laid in this episode by coauthors Brown and Switanowski.
I, for one, will be looking forward to future Webisodes!
Technical work throughout the show is mostly well-executed. (The actors' timing with the videos is near-perfect.)
Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff, Hamtramck. Friday-Saturday through Dec. 27, plus Sunday, Dec. 21. Tickets: $15. For information: 313-365-4948 or www.planetant.com.
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