Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
And guess what? The audience (at least the night I attended) was not inclined to reference current events. Whether they'd dodged into the Dudley Riggs Theatre (named for the late founder and long-time mastermind of Brave New Workshop) to grab liquid coolant at the bar and escape the heat, with no inclination to weigh things down with the heavy topics clogging the news, or they were afflicted by "Minnesota Nice," not wanting to be caught launching an opinion into orbit that might run counter to the drift of the room. Also, the invitations for input issued by Caleb McEwen, the show's director, on-stage host, and participant in several of the routines, are fairly defanged–a letter of the alphabet (twice), something you've always wanted to do, the weirdest thing anyone ever said to you, and such. The result is an evening of humor that is frisky and often unhinged, but not particularly satiric in nature.
Of course, in the hands of primo comedic actors such as those on stage, this doesn't mean It's Not the Heat..." doesn't deliver the laughs. Word is that over its run, this edition of Brave New Workshop will have rotating cast members. In the cast of the performance I attended, in addition to McEwen, were veteran member Lauren Anderson, Denzel Belin, Richie McLarn, Heather Meyer, and Doug Neithercott. All are quick on their feet, thinking of funny comebacks and unexpected twists in the direction a sketch is taking. There are abundant laughs to be had, albeit some tread water to barely keep from a descent into the depths of taste. Of course, in a Brave New Workshop crowd, you can feel confident that your laughter, no matter how low-brow a trigger prompts it, is welcome. Besides, the troupe members are expert at using a "bad taste" laugh emitted from somewhere in the audience as fodder for a whole series of more laughs, and laughter, after all, is the trade of the Dudley Riggs' realm.
Doug Neithercott earned my vote as MVP of the evening, always ready with a quick quip and able to meld seamlessly into whatever direction the context shifts. Close behind, McEwen proved as adept on stage as he has been backstage, and Denzel Belin scored many of the best lines and displayed a deft mind for molding the turns of the improvised bits. Rickie McLarn and Heather Meyer both scored their fair share of points. Only Lauren Anderson, who has been so good for so long on the Dudley Riggs stage, seemed stuck, no matter the theme of the sketch, in a persona calling attention to how outrageously wacky they are, losing the bet that says to be wacky is automatically to be funny.
Jon Pumper was master of the keyboard, almost continuously pulling a tune out of his hat to provide a droll accompaniment for each sketch. It was hard to tell whether McEwen, as director, signaled technical director Matthew Vichlach, or Vichlach made the call himself, when it was time to cut the lights on a sketch and go on to the next, but the troop showed a good sense overall of knowing how far to stretch out a particular bit, and when it was time to call a halt and move on.
Being a completely improvised evening and noting there will be cast rotations over the course of the run, the audience was enjoined to return and experience a completely different show. With that in mind, please take my comments as the reflection of just one night's confection of wit and merriment. Perhaps on some evenings the audience will include a number of activists whose suggested topics will steer the performance into more politically hot waters, more similar to past Brave New Workshop editions I have seen–or maybe not. Perhaps a break from the heat of political rhetoric, even in the form of well-honed comedic barbs, is not such a bad idea.
In any case, I feel confident that if your threshold for broad comedy is high and you enjoy watching talented practitioners of the art whip a wisp of an idea with a cue from the audience into a souffle of hilarity, you will have a good time at It's Not the Heat, It's the Humidity.
It's Not the Heat, It's the Humidity runs through August 5, 2023, at the Brave New Workshop, 824 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $27. Group Rates are available. For tickets and information, please call 612-332-6620 or visit bravenewworkshop.org.
Improvised and Performed by: Lauren Anderson, Denzel Belin, Caleb McEwen, Richie McLarn, Heather Meyer and Doug Neithercott; Director: Caleb McEwen; Musical Director and Pianist: Jon Pumper; Technical Director: Matthew Vichlach.