BEST OF BRI-KO Takes Audience Participation a Step Too Far

BEST OF BRI-KO Takes Audience Participation a Step Too Far

Pictured: THE BEST OF BRI-KO’s Tim Soszko and Brian Posen.

Review: THE BEST OF BRI-KO at Stage 773

By Bec Willett

Upon exiting Stage 773’s THE BEST OF BRI-KO it was unsettling to have to check that I was not tracking mushed lettuce into the carpeted lobby. This vegetable was just one of many unlikely props wielded by three actors as they explored status and relationship in this hour-long silent sketch show.

Comedically, the strongest moments of this piece were those that highlighted the quirks of humanity, often through exact movement. One such scene focused on the power play between the men where one wanted silence while the others did their best to break it. Another, a dance where intricately choreographed movements were delivered with a poker face, making the comicality of their expressive limbs all the more hilarious. While many of the sketches were based on classic improvisational exercises, this cast’s moment-to-moment precision elevated them to beyond generic.

Unfortunately, as the show progressed the quality of the comedy dissipated. Increasingly, there seemed to be an unusual and inane focus on smashing multiple objects: light bulbs, lettuce, balloons, an audience member’s face. The role of the audience went from being part of the joke to being the butt of it. It started with being shot at with foam bullets from toy guns, followed by being splashed by liquid from water balloons bursting as they landed in a spiked bucket positioned over various audience member’s heads, and finally the threat of a shaving cream pie to the face. As the actor carried the pie through the audience frequently pretending to accidentally trip, this threat still tipped on the side of humorous. It was a game with a glimmer of fear – like that slightly nervous laughter you get as a child when a parent teases you with tickling. While thrilling, you know you are safe – you trust your parents, or in this case, the performers, to abide by the social contract that includes the respect of your personal boundaries – but then the pie was actually used. It was smashed into the face of an Asian man in a sea of white patrons, his dumbfounded reaction indicating that he was not a plant. In a sketch show where many in-the-moment events happen, I cannot assess the intention behind the choice of patron – perhaps the location instead of the person was pre-planned? Perhaps it was not. Regardless, this violation of trust was not only inappropriate but disrespectful.

Good sketch shows have always been a place of challenge where, to drive home a message, the line is straddled between uncomfortable and too far. Perhaps if this was the case with THE BEST OF BRI-KO, while questionable, these choices may have been understandable. There would be a take-home – goodness knows there’s enough fodder in our world for it. But while the individual pieces at times communicated meaning there was no cohesive statement here, especially none that could excuse this breaking of an important social contract.

About author

Bec Willett

Bec Willett is an Australian, Chicago-based director, designer, educator, and writer. She has worked on projects with an array of Chicago theater companies, including 20% Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, City Lit, Dandelion Theatre, Prologue Theatre, and Waltzing Mechanics. To find out more about her work and upcoming projects, please visit becwillett.com.

Comments
  • Darla#1

    March 2, 2017

    Did you consider hanging back a moment and asking the man who recieved the pie (or the performers themselves) if the gentleman was a plant? I ask because I have seen this show several times and spoken each time to the person who received the pie (once I helped them clean up) and it was ALWAYS a plant/volunteer, usually a staff member of the theater or a friend of one of the performers. And on top of that, how dare you infer that they are somehow racist?! If you didn’t like the show, that’s fine, but stop trying to stir controversy. It makes you seem like a terrible person.

    Reply
  • Anne Bradford#2

    March 4, 2017

    So, it turns out the person in question actually WAS, in fact, a plant. Are you going to retract your statements and apologize for creating this fake headline and fake news? Creating click bait to gain views is despicable and pathetic. Perform Ink should reevaluate their partnership with you, Ms. Willett. Shameful.

    Reply
    • Darla#3

      March 7, 2017

      I hesitate to say this is bad journalism, because a review is an opinion. But even an opinion is based on fact. And in this case the fact is WRONG! You were told it was a plant and there is no apology or correction. Take responsibility for your mistakes. And as far racial insensitivity, that too can be the opinion of the reviewer (based on a wrong information) but don’t split hairs. Part of racism is racial insensitivity. You’re not children. Please be accountable.

      Reply
    • Darla#4

      March 7, 2017

      Apologies, Ms. Bradford. I replied to the wrong comment.

      Reply
  • PerformInk#5

    March 5, 2017

    Editors here – we were informed after publication that the person mentioned in the review receiving a pie in the face was, in fact, a “plant.” Regardless, Bec’s review mentions that whether he was a plant or not, the choice was misguided in her view. Clearly, the intention was that the audience perceives it as a “real” moment. As editors, we aren’t in a position to judge the content of the performance, nor would it be appropriate to do so, but we have spoken with Bec, and feel her personal reaction is appropriate to express in her review. We don’t see the review inferring racism, rather a perception of racial insensitivity in the reviewer’s opinion. As far as the headline goes, which was an editorial choice, it reflects the reviewer’s description of multiple moments of audience participation, not just one.

    Reply
    • Darla#6

      March 7, 2017

      I hesitate to say this is bad journalism, because a review is an opinion. But even an opinion is based on fact. And in this case the fact is WRONG! You were told it was a plant and there is no apology or correction. Take responsibility for your mistakes. And as far racial insensitivity, that too can be the opinion of the reviewer (based on a wrong information) but don’t split hairs. Part of racism is racial insensitivity. You’re not children. Please be accountable.

      Reply

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