at Remains Theatre


at Apple Tree Theatre

Nice guy, Ed. Smart as a whip. Funny as hell. Eight heads.

Ed puts on improvised shows, late nights at Remains Theatre. Takes a single suggestion from the audience and builds it into an hour and a half’s worth of eccentric characters and odd-to-surreal interconnections. Plays all the parts himself.

The show I saw started with the audience suggesting a wedding. Ed put his heads together and came up with the saga of Angela and Jack, an unlikely but ardent pair who become affianced at first sight when Jack stops by the grocery where Angela reigns as the Aphrodite of the produce section, and shares some melon with her. Angela’s pure prole: the big-haired daughter of an electric-company meter reader–variously called Joe, Breenk, and (in his secret persona) Chad–whose obsession with power consumption leads him to install a gerbil-on-a-treadmill arrangement in the basement. Beautifying herself for the wedding, Angela gets a perm so huge it spills out through the sunroof of Jack’s car and catches flying objects.

Jack, meanwhile, is definitely an aristocrat–though what type of aristocrat isn’t made clear. Judging by the Etonian gentleman with whom he hobnobs over lemonade, it’s possible to deduce that he commutes to Angela’s grocery from an estate somewhere in England. But if that were the case, how could Joe/Breenk/Chad show up to read the Etonian’s (unusually large and elaborate) meter and to become his vaguely homoerotic drinking buddy?

I don’t know. I don’t know a lot of things about the improv I saw. It was kind of messy–especially after intermission, when the Edheads stopped listening to one another and started making elementary mistakes. Joe/ Breenk/Chad’s multiple names, for example, are a consequence of Ed’s losing track of who was who. Sure, John Lehr–the very clever head who played Joe/etc–came through with a last-minute twist that rationalized the discrepancy and turned it into a joke. But patch-up asides are never as funny or pleasurable as the spontaneous coherence that can unfold in the presence of improvisers who are being truly attentive. The last third of the Angela and Jack story lost its focus and languished. Scenes piled up when they should have been building. Ed’s heads started sputtering. And the show ended without offering us the one scene that would appear to have been indispensable: Jack and Angela’s wedding.

Of course, I didn’t realize I’d been denied that scene until the next day. It’s not like I felt cheated at the time. What I felt at the time was that I’d seen a potentially brilliant show go a little out of whack and end up seeming merely extraordinary. Merely witty and energetic and fine.

I saw Ed work last winter, with a slightly different arrangement of heads. Certain tendencies become evident even after only two viewings. For instance: Edhead Chris Hogan obviously likes to put on his upper- class Englishman whenever possible. John Lehr appears to be something of a highbrow hot dog, pulling focus with his little forays into postmodern whimsy–his tendency to remind us that he’s a performer performing. But Ed’s overall talent, smarts, and rapport are also perfectly evident. Improv is story telling, and Ed loves to tell wild ones. His eight heads challenge one another while his body remains a single whole. More often than not, anyway. During the blissful first half hour or so of this show, his concentration and energy were palpable. So was his achievement. Nice guy, Ed.

Didi and Gogo are improvisers too, trying to keep their banter alive against a backdrop of silence, cruelty, misery, and death. They playact. They ad-lib. They resurrect old routines. Feed each other lines. Do a soft-shoe. They perform.

There’s nothing new about finding a vaudeville strain in Didi and Gogo, the unhappy heroes of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Bert Lahr’s appearance in the first American production was an acknowledgment of that aspect of who they are. But the play’s status as a 20th-century classic makes that hard to remember at times. We get to thinking of D & G as Mankind. Ecce homo, and all that.

Which is why it’s good to have a production like the one at the Apple Tree Theatre come along every so often. With a couple of musical-comedy troupers like Ross Lehman and James W. Sudik in the leads you get to see the Mr. Bones in Gogo, the Mr. Interlocutor in Didi. They’re Groucho and Harpo, Abbott and Costello, Burns and Allen, even Fred and Ginger. Where the long-faced Godots enforce our sense of the bleakness around the characters, this one shows us the playfulness within them: the collusion that makes their unbearable world–well, not bearable, really, but at least a little funnier.

The codirectors, Eileen Boevers and Mark E. Lococo, haven’t quite figured out what to do with Pozzo and Lucky–the sideshow figures who pass through the play on their way to and from market. Consequently, there’s a long dull streak in act one, and a briefer, shallower one in act two. But the rest of the show is sweet, sad, generous, and genuinely funny. Fascinating guys, Didi and Gogo.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joe Nicita.