The next generation of Off-Off proves its worth with stellar sketch and improv

By Rita Koganzon

The fact is, communism is pretty funny no matter what you do with it. But when you mix it with estrogen-filled folk singing, politically incorrect children’s television shows, and sparkly glitter pants, it’s pretty hard to go wrong. The result—Off-Off Campus’s spring show, Pants Pants Revolution!—is a consistently funny and bizarre blend of sketch comedy and improv.

Now in the fourth week of its six-week run, Pants Pants Revolution! performs for an enthusiastic, active, and perhaps partially inebriated audience each week. The audience is essential, as it responds to the cast and generates a lively atmosphere in which even the cast’s occasional mistakes are funny.

The show consists of improv scenes from audience-generated suggestions interspersed with rehearsed sketches. Some of the most amusing sketches recur weekly, including the duo of Gaia (Jesse Robbins) and Fallopia (Simone Martin-Newberry), two embittered folk singers who remind each other in low, serious voices that they’re “really real” and adapt pop hits like Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” to their own angsty lives. Another weekly sketch is a frenetic children’s show called “Glen’s Den” that promises to take theaudience on a trip to a new country each week—including the faraway nations of Alaska and Asia—where they offer traditional cultural foods like California rolls.

Other great sketch highlights included Cara Clifford singing an opera about being tortured in high school, an advertisement for Stephen Hawking’s new funk album, and an adaptation of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” to “Can You Feel the Blood Tonight?”—a scene about a cruel girl (Robbins) who gets her period for the first time, doesn’t know what’s happening, and asks, “Maybe because I am a bitch, God’s getting back at me?”

But it’s in the improv scenes that the cast’s comedic talents are really challenged. The more structured games like the rap contest (during which the cast members take turns freestyling about an audience-suggested topic) are typically the strongest segments—until they falter and the audience yells out, “Die, die, die!” Ben Tuber and Robbins have a flair for producing absurd rhymes on the spot (“I walk like an Egyptian/I’m from the Bangles/And I also read Marx and Engels”), and even the cast members who struggle with the rapping are comic in their attempts.

The more open-ended improv skits present some problems for the cast, though. While generally strong, there were moments in some scenes when it seemed that the actors were not responding to each other’s cues and pushing the scene into opposing directions. In a scene set in an airport, for example, Tuber played a foreign traveler who needed help with his luggage, while Clifford played a fed-up security guard about to quit her job. Tuber clearly tried to steer the scene toward a conflict over airport security, but the scene came to an impasse when neither addressed the other’s conflicts.

The other problem that surfaces in the longer improv scenes is the ability of one actor to drag down an entire skit. Even a slight drop-off in enthusiasm shows up in the acting, and Cisco Colon’s mixed performances best exemplify the effect that it has on the scenes. At times, he seems excited about being onstage and is able to take cues from the other cast members. At other instances, however, he appears entirely uninterested in taking part and either stalls the skit or is pulled along unwillingly by other cast members.

For the most part, however, the cast is deft at rescuing scenes that show signs of dragging. Rachel Austin is especially good at coming up with unexpected directions to take scenes and has perhaps the widest character range. In addition, Tuber and Dana Kroop can be counted on for physical comedy when the dialogue is slow.

Overall, the show is fairly cohesive for a medium that depends on random weirdness, and Off-Off definitely excels at making random weirdness funny. Nothing illustrates this better than the sparkly sequined pants (contributed by Clifford’s mother) that the cast dons at the end of each show. The reliably hilarious sketches and crazy improv are definitely worth the Friday night trip to University Church, where the show will be running through ninth week.