WILBUS AMADEUS CROAKLEY, Giants in the Sky Productions, at Second City, Donny’s Skybox Studio, and MY UNCLE’S FAVORITE DISH IS CASHEW CHICKEN…NO NUTS, Stir-Friday Night!, at Second City, Donny’s Skybox Studio. I do believe Jason Flowers is insane. I mean that in the best possible sense. A student at Second City’s Training Center (as I am), he’s not content to do what earlier improvisers have done. Following his own eccentric comic muse, he sometimes looks so out of sync with his fellow players that it seems he’s been digitally pasted into a scene. And judging from Wilbus Amadeus Croakley Flowers’s writing eludes categorization as well. While he draws on improv’s satiric tradition, this hour-long comedy, which he also directs, is more than just another improv-based play. Mixing genres with promiscuous glee, it reads at times like broad parody–like Forrest Gump, Croakley, who’s half white and half black, stumbles into key moments in history: he meets the Black Panthers in Oakland, lands on the moon before Neil Armstrong, and trips at Woodstock. But it also has naturalistic comic scenes, as well as Monty Python-esque silliness.
Some of the material falls flat, either because the timing is off or because Flowers hasn’t found the best way to present his trippy humor. For every joke that bombs, however, Flowers has another equally odd gag that works. He also has a great eye for comic talent: this midnight show employs some very sharp young comic actors, notably Jordan Peele in the title role: he wrings big laughs out of everything he touches, even a rather dull bit about being the first black man on the moon. (The gag: he wasn’t expected to make it so there’s no fuel for the return trip.)
I hope the folks at Stir-Friday Night! check out Flowers’s show–this Asian-American improv group could learn a lot about finding and sticking to a comic vision. Though they’ve been performing off and on for the last five years, their material still feels a lot like the stuff at Second City–only not as funny. They make some halfhearted, tentative attempts to comment on the Asian-American experience but don’t seem to want to offend either non-Asians or their own community (or communities).
My Uncle’s Favorite Dish Is Cashew Chicken…No Nuts is a “best of” show. I’d hate to see the material on the cutting-room floor.