If you took a guilty pleasure in the rascality of Jack Tripper and the cleavage of his Chrissy, if there's a soft spot in your heart for Ted Bundy and Married With Children, or if there's a soft spot in your head for The Facts of Life, Collaborative Arts is busily satisfying your boob tube cravings. Sitcoms Live! is an unabashed celebration of the honeyed 23-minute pabulum that has herded families together and babysat generations of proud American lowbrows.
You'll spend your first trimester at Duke Energy Theatre reliving Tripper's quick conquest of Mr. Roper's niece in an exhumed episode of Three's Company. Scene changes are whiled away with mildewed commercials mercifully altered -- but not necessarily resuscitated -- by the Robot Johnson sketch comedy troupe. We get Joe Copley instead of Hank West wasting his talent on Roper, but all the acting handily ascends to the lofty sitcom plane. Rachael Roberts Kozlowski is a toothsome Chrissy and James Yost leers nearly sufficiently as Jack Tripper. Meg Wood zings all of Mrs. Roper's zingers, and Cody Harding simpered all of her niece's breathless lust.
Harding reappeared in a different costume after the simulated station break for the Facts of Life episode -- as a slightly different bimbo. Good to see men and women squandering their talents, don't you think? This time Harding portrayed a series regular, the saliently vain Blair. Not much to work with here as everybody strives to believe that dear Mrs. Garrett is a serial killer, grinding her latest victim into a fresh batch of sausages. Dyanna Sorvillo seemed to create the biggest comedy sensation for audience aficionados as the wholesomely vulgar Natalie, and indeed, she did resemble somebody I might have clicked hurriedly by with my remote sometime during the '80s.
Yost directs the most lavish production in the finale, an episode of Married With Children where Al Bundy bestirs himself and, surmounting the skepticism, indifference, and annoyance of his family, crafts an extra loo for his humble castle with a premium toilet for his throne. The testimonials to the operation of this prized Ferguson plumbing, fervently delivered by Stormy Borman, really are funny stuff -- particularly since Collaborative and Yost haven't gone overboard on the luxuriousness of this integral prop. Ashli Stepp as Mrs. Bundy, along with Kozlowski and John Wray as the equally seedy kids, hold up a hilarious mirror to the nuclear American family. All the more hilarious because the dimwitted couch potatoes who sprouted in front of this series never recognized themselves.
just do it launched its second guerrilla season at Theatre Charlotte, piling on top of the regular mainstage production of Godspell and starting its latest installment, After Midnight, at 11 p.m. With all that's going on in town -- preventing me from catching up with Sitcoms until its second week -- I was thankful for the outré scheduling, though it blew a huge gap in my Friday night.
There are repeating segments, old and new, that will carry the eclectic comedy/poetry/reading stage revue smoothly forward. Vito Abate hosted and played a role in "City Queens -- Episode 1," which he also wrote and directed. Jorja Ursin opened with a reading, directed a new sketch by David Cruse, and acted in "Queens." Playwright Carol Butler and belletrist Stacey Rose dished out assorted ruminations and cris du coeur. The Chuckleheads again simulated an improv comedy sketch (the course of true improv never did run so smooth), and geezer rocker Chris Bateson performed a couple of numbers on his geetar, including the obligatory J.J. Cale hit.
All three of the sketches -- let's include les Chuckles here -- had moments of laughter and illumination. If Hank West wasn't at Duke Energy nailing Mr. Roper, then he had to be at Theatre Charlotte, with Jorja on his mind, right? Right, as RLS's post-op Ms. Hyde in Cruse's "Midnight Conversations."
A disarming informality still rules the just-do-it ethos, no matter what theme is chosen for the night. The person you schmooze with in the lobby before the show, or who you find yourself sitting next to during the show, might just stand up, walk up to the stage, and be the show when his or her turn comes. Could be you if you hook up with Abate sometime. All you need is an itch to perform and some edgy material that fits the just-do-it theme of the night.
So I killed part of that gaping hole in my Friday by staying over at Duke Energy and catching the first half dozen new sketches by Robot Johnson. Damn, these guys are getting better with age. So good, in fact, that I found myself mourning the inimitable "Talking Baby" that I was forced to skip and the four sketches that came before it as I show-hopped to the barn on Queens Road.
These people are certifiable loonies. An anthology of songs Tony Bennett is sick of singing? Racist Duke's mayonnaise? The prosecution rests.