ARTS

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February 9, 2010

Gorilla Tango plays the name game with Jessica Presents

For sketch comedy to be truly captivating, the actors must remove their egos and plunge, without self-awareness or reservation, into the absurd characters and situations they have created. Do the actors who make up local sketch comedy group Jessica do this? At times yes, and when they do, the show is truly a joy to watch. However, both the sketches and the jokes themselves were not strong enough to keep their latest show at Gorilla Tango Theatre, Jessica Presents… Yet Again, from dragging when the acting fell flat.

The show started off slow, with a fairly weak sketch about a high school Model U.N. team offering little more than an excuse for the actors to indulge in a series of foreign accents, which were neither accurate enough to be convincing, nor overblown enough to be funny. At first, the cast seemed reluctant to dive into their roles and had trouble finding their rhythm, often stumbling and halting through their lines.

But after several sketches, they seemed to loosen up and began to enjoy themselves, and I found myself enjoying it too. While there weren’t a lot of deep-belly laughs coming from the audience, it was hard to resist smiling or chuckling at the untamed goofiness transpiring onstage.

Courtney Hummel offered several talented performances, stealing the show as both a middle-aged mall walker and a sassy teen girl. One of the best scenes of the show featured Hummel perfectly inhabiting the role of a crazy woman. Even her cast-mate Leonardo Garcia was in stitches. She was also quick to cover for technical fumbles, improvising jokes that made prop malfunctions funnier than the props themselves.

Garcia was also a treat to watch. While his almost-permanent grin did not match his role as a funeral pastor or a basketball player, he seemed right at home as a teenage hooligan or behind his guitar for a musical number. The other two actors, Lindsey Finn and Nikhil Gahlawat, both offered solid performances in more sedate roles, playing the straight characters opposite Hummel and Garcia. Nevertheless, their faux sincerity was spot-on, and gave the show a sense of realism that would otherwise be lost between the disparate sketches and their co-stars’ whacky performances.

The sketches themselves were nothing if not original. It seemed like there was no situation or role that the Jessica crew was unwilling to tackle. The only flaw here was that several of the sketches felt underdeveloped. One scene, which featured the gods of every major religion as roommates, was only able to coerce a few giggles from the audience, leaving the scene’s full comedic potential unrealized. I was unsatisfied by the conclusion of several sketches, wishing for just one more punchline that seemed to be left unsaid.

Although the actors’ gestures sometimes seemed half-hearted, when the physical comedy was good, it was very good. A scene featuring the cast as four teenagers in a car was very well executed; watching their contortions as they changed seats in a small, imagined car was one of the scene’s funniest gimmicks.

Overall, Jessica Presents…Yet Again was fun. It was not hilarious, not brilliant, but was definitely a creative and thoroughly enjoyable show featuring four performers with a lot of promise as both actors and writers.