Annoyance Theatre


at Puszh Studios

Back in high school and college there was always a wiseass who could do impressions of our teachers. He’d swagger about like that flamboyant drama instructor, purse his lips and mimic the Latin prof, and then crack his whip and teach swimming like Frau Lazar. Sure, the impressions pretty much sucked, but hell, we weren’t paying for it.

Now that party topics have graduated to stock options, networking, and the ghastly Tex-Mex-Cajun-style grouper parfait somebody got sick on last week, we might be a little nostalgic for the time when Paulie’s imitation of Madame Durham made us breathless with laughter, when comedy was only a few blocks away in somebody’s basement or dorm room. This seems to be the idea behind theatrical events like Annoyance Theatre’s Modern Problems in Science, a mock interdisciplinary university course with professors whose antics differ only slightly from those of your favorite school goofball.

Professors Dick Costolo, Rich Fulcher, and Phil Granchi and superfluous TA Karen Hough teach a bogus class based on audience suggestions, spewing forth an hour’s worth of academic mumbo jumbo. On the night I attended, Costolo was a doddering old professor of podiatry, Fulcher an expert in animal husbandry, and Granchi a neuropharmacologist–all of whom endeavored to prove the audience’s hypothesis that linear mechanics was responsible for the serial killing of transvestites.

The show had a fair number of laughs and given the subject matter was surprisingly tame. The performers certainly provided the most tasteful treatment one could imagine of transvestism and serial murder. Everyone worked well off the others, and they all seemed to be having a great time. Granchi’s eager-beaver energy provided a good contrast to Fulcher’s hilarious pipe-smoking, tweed-wearing pomposity, while Costolo’s inane, senile contributions inspired occasional titters. The director, Tom Keevers, is credited with orchestrating the insanity, but his main contribution seemed to be allowing the performers to do whatever the hell they wanted and say whatever came into their heads.

Reviewing a show like this is sort of like going to Duk’s to review the food or writing a dissertation on the philosophical import of the comic strip Family Circus. Coming into Annoyance’s suburban-rec-room atmosphere with even the most rudimentary set of artistic criteria will yield only disappointment. A lot of the jokes are dumb and the actors laugh louder than anyone in the audience, but so what?

Modern Problems in Science sets out to provide an irreverent “tell the windbags who think that everything onstage has to be art to go take a flying fuck” approach, and they succeed. If you’re looking to watch three pretty funny guys who think they’re incredibly funny, go for it. Knock yourself out. Better yet, reenroll in high school.

Far less successful is Chaos Theory’s new Saturday-night improv show at Puszh Studios. These six young comedians exhibit nary a spark of originality in their rehash of hackneyed theater games and improv-based sketch comedy. They’re certainly gung-ho, brimming over with enthusiasm that makes the audience want them to succeed. I felt compelled to keep a smile plastered on my face to encourage them, but my condescension proved futile.

The majority of Chaos Theory’s comic sketches don’t succeed because their attempts at characterization are never more than half-baked and because company members keep changing the rules that govern their scenes, refusing to follow the logic they’ve set up. A running sketch about talking rabbits who quarrel with their hunters and one particular bunny who gets a human pregnant and has to marry her went on far too long and was far more baffling than funny. A shopworn modern boy-meets-girl (or asshole meets bitch) sketch probably would have seemed creaky a half century ago, and a lame stab at political commentary, in which two American intelligence operatives are gunned down by a Russian agent who doesn’t realize the cold war is over, was downright embarrassing.

Chaos Theory sure seem like a friendly bunch, more sympathetic than most improv troupes I’ve seen. They’re just not as funny.