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.
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.