Speaking as someone who was terrified of the telephone when I was a child because I couldn't understand how the voices of people I knew could get trapped in this black plastic thing, I am very grateful to Buntport Theater Company for explaining how a television works: Little fairy people are trapped inside the box and act out all the shows and commercials.
In Idiot Box: An Evening of Sketch Comedy, five Buntporters illustrate this theory with a series of sketches. There's a lot of danger in the premise. To begin with, it could lead to a show that's unbearably cute. And skits featuring game shows and other standard television fare have been done. And done and done. Apparently every time a Saturday Night Live writer runs out of ideas -- clearly a frequent occurrence -- he comes up with such a scnenario. It's inevitably lame, because there's no way of mocking a genre that comes across like a parody of itself in the first place. But Erik Edborg, Hannah Duggan, Erin Rollman, Evan Weissman and Brian Colonna, who (with SamAnTha Schmitz and Matt Petraglia) created Idiot Box and also perform it, avoid these traps. They're very good actors and deft, witty writers. No skit goes exactly where you think it's going; no flight of lunatic fantasy is too ridiculous to be undertaken; no joke gets belabored past the point of funniness. The whole evening is light and stylish, and the group is smart enough to stop the entire proceeding while you're still rocking with laughter and wanting more.
There are, of course, takeoffs on standard TV fare: a cop drama, a game show, a reality series, the Food Network. These are punctuated by scenes in which we see the fairies -- only their silhouettes are visible behind a transparent white screen -- warming up, arguing, making shadow puppets and discussing whether work in the microwave business wouldn't be less stressful and more satisfying. Then there's the sound of someone channel surfing -- the idiotic bursts of dialogue, laughter, music and impassioned selling we're all so familiar with -- and another skit begins.
In a dating-game show, a horrified Evan Weissman is paired with a sluttily oozing and squeakily singing Erin Rollman as "another couple you can look down on." Edborg gets in shots at arrogant chefs, along with some cogent allusions to current events, in "Cooking With Stalin." There's a takeoff on nature shows featuring daring Australians handling snakes and alligators, only here the two Australians are terrified of anything resembling untrammeled wildlife. "Birds," says one of them. "You can't trust them." In a Sesame Street-style show, song, metaphor and action are used to teach kids how you find a clitoris.
Where the lines aren't that strong, the characterizations are. When the characterizations flag, a clever or audacious comment comes to the rescue. Duggan shines as the female half of a cop team and as the gum-chewing girlfriend of the pathetic, mindlessly violent host of The Bully Show. Evan Weissman is a convincing straight man with a hilarious repertoire of hapless expressions. Brian Colonna is so filled with delight at his (or perhaps it's her) own cleverness in the game show that he can't stop patting himself on the back -- and we can't stop chortling every time he does it. As comedians, Edborg and Rollman take things right to the edge and then over it. Why is Edborg imitating a chicken behind that scrim, and is he really going to lay an egg? How does Rollman come up with these insane characters? All her bits are funny, but one of them takes the cake: a monstrous adolescent who's just won a science fair with her world-conquering board game, Monopolize Your Risk. This girl is such a bullying, self-satisfied, evil, lisping little megalomaniac that you don't know whether to laugh or cry, but you do know you can't take your eyes off of her.
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