Third Rail Comedy Ensemble

at the Roxy

Derailed? Well, not exactly. More like distracted. Even with a clear concept and a solid method to help keep it on track, the Third Rail Comedy Ensemble show 2 Legs and a Cane gets lost somewhere along the line–one of those phantom trains that heads off into a foggy night, never to be seen again.

Not that you can’t hear the whistle blow every so often. There’s a Little Engine That Can hidden here somewhere in the mists that envelop this show. It might turn out to be worth seeing, if it can only find itself first.

Described as “a comic look at the most intense relationships that humans can possibly have,” 2 Legs and a Cane consists of 21 skits about parents, children, lovers, spouses, and a medieval potato farmer named Honorable Jones. Five of the nine ensemble members, including director Noah Gregoropoulos, have studied the Harold–Del Close’s long-form improv style, in which a series of premises are combed out and braided together until they coalesce into some kind of extended, unified work–so it’s not surprising to find most of the skits connecting up with each other. Early on, we meet the Wilson family–Mom, Dad, and Scooter–as they move into their dream house, only to find weird Jimmy already living there. Several subsequent encounters with the Wilsons show them playing suburban Romanovs to Jimmy’s bland Rasputin.

We also spend some time with the Wilsons’ weirdass neighbors, a couple of misanthropic cheapskates in dago Ts and bathrobes, who keep tabs on the Wilsons through their venetian blinds and go into a whining panic whenever anybody–including their own son–shows up at the door.

Those neighbors constitute one of the two honest-to-God original comic creations in 2 Legs and a Cane; and while the Wilson family interludes follow a rather predictable arc, they also give intimations of the funny comedy of menace locked inside them, waiting to breathe free. Assembled into a single, well-focused narrative, Third Rail’s Wilson/Jimmy/neighbors material could generate a pretty decent entertainment.

But the Third Rail folks have chosen instead to dilute the narrative with a bunch of unrelated and mostly mediocre bits that carry through the announced Family Relations theme without taking it anywhere. Holding tight to their concept, Gregoropoulos and company end up losing their show.

If it were up to me, I’d jettison the bachelor-party scene, and the “Family Tree” song, too. I’d get rid of that pointless steal from Sexual Perversity in Chicago, along with that idiotic little business about a couple of bickering roommates. I’d drop Honorable Jones for sure. I’d eliminate just about everything, in fact, but the Wilson stuff and a certain skit–the show’s other honest-to-God original comic creation–where Grandma’s done in by a gang of malicious furniture. Then I’d take the leftover pieces and set about weaving them into a sharp 60 minutes. That’s what I’d do.

Of course, even then my troubles wouldn’t be over. Brian McCann has a nice weaseliness as the misanthrope in the dago T, James Grace is appropriately Beavish as Scooter, and Madeline Long’s downright brave as a dancing ovum. But most of the Third Railers’ acting is as muddy as their sense of structure. They don’t seem to understand that a two-minute skit requires as much grounding, as clear a sense of intention as any scene from Hedda Gabler. Amy Ludwig and Dave Koechner make an incomprehensible mess of the Wilson parents, never giving us a sense of who they are other than jerks. Jim Carrane can’t find the sly, offhanded nastiness he absolutely needs as Jimmy.

Like I say, this is one lost train. But those faint whistles make me think it might find its way back around someday.