(Full disclosure: the author works and perform at the Curious Comedy Theater, but was not paid for nor instructed in writing this article.)
The second sketch in Curious Comedy Theater’s much-beloved “State Fair of the Union” is a nice analogue to the feel of the show.
“NEW!” shouts a pitchman, wearing what looks like a bio-hazard suit with a light-up children’s toy attached to the head.
“IT’S NEW!” shouts another, dressed identically.
This is the one of several scenes which make reference to a running gag in the show, a product for sale in this fictional world that is abominable and hilarious. The scene makes nearly no sense when it starts, and barely any more sense by the time it’s over, but it’s fucking hilarious, and it makes you think critically about modernity without being heavy-handed. The show isn’t all this surrealist, but many scenes are quite absurd, and play freely with reality. When the punchlines are just a tiny bit obvious, it’s only because the payoff when they land as intended is huge.
The performance is themed around television and consumer-culture, and between each scene a projector displays clips of TV shows and some static, as though the entire production were a viewer flipping through the channels, always returning to “Good Morning Portland,” an obnoxiously happy-go-lucky morning show whose female lead does a stunningly pitch-perfect Kathy Lee Gifford-meets-Hoda-meets-a pile of cocaine-meets-a horny housewife. She’s more than funny enough to forgive her laugh and chaotic, blissed-out energy, once the audience realizes that this is an actress, Katie Michels, whose versatility and ability to play muted characters shines in other scenes. Then, they’re in on the joke and she keeps the high-caffeine antics rolling, tying the show together beautifully.
Another great feature to the show is the original music that’s recorded and performed, and the technical program with many lighting and sound cues which after opening night has been executed perfectly. It is nice to see the Curious Comedy Playaz, the house ensemble, using the full breadth of their musical and singing talent in conjunction with all the facilities of the theater to make an engrossing and enjoyable comedy.
I’ve attempted not to ruin any punchlines in this two-hour show, which is hard to do because just one might be enticing enough to get you to go see this, the closing weekend of “State Fair of the Union.” I’ll save the yuks for the players, as the ensemble is incredible and deserves your attentive laughter. The highlight performer for me is the always-outstanding Sam De Roest as “sunny outlook weatherman Dwayne Peters.” A talented actor and improviser, Sam’s main role, and a “bad cop” character he plays in one short scene, are the kind of comedic performances for which people throw roses. Curious Comedy mainstay Gabe Dinger has a memorable performance as a cooking show host, and Katie Behrens turns in solid supporting roles so consistently that this show would be lost without her. Leon Anderson and Josh Stenseth round out the cast in a recurring sketch with a Moldy Peaches-inspired theme song. The sketch confuses some audiences, and makes others howl, but it’s just one more flip of the dial in a show made up of tiny shows, each one written masterfully.
Directed by Stacey Hallal with co-director Bill McKinley, written by the performers and a team of the city’s best comedic writers, with several understudies performing when the actors have been away, State Fair of the Union closes this weekend at Curious Comedy Theater. Buy tickets at www.curiouscomedy.org. Friday and Saturday, 8pm-10pm (with a free show afterward), $15. Curious Comedy Theater 5225 NE MLK Jr. Blvd.