Live Comedy Review: Two Months In Elevates Topical Sketch Comedy in the Age of Trump | Arts

Live Comedy Review: Two Months In Elevates Topical Sketch Comedy in the Age of Trump


Two Months In: An Original Sketch Comedy Revue
★★★ ½
The ArtsCenter
through March 18
  • Photo courtesy of the artists
Why is sketch comedy a rarity in the region, despite a robust improvisational comedy community? For starters, different theatrical, literary, and editorial skills are involved in generating the material. Plus there’s a diametrical shift in focus between the two. Where improv follows the catch-and-release principle when it comes to characters and situations, creating short-term bits that are never seen again, in sketch comedy, writers work with performers to capture, develop, and perpetuate the moments they present onstage. These two strains of comedy employ very different approaches toward the same goal.

Since Two Months In: An Original Sketch Comedy Revue displays the first fruits of a bullpen of six writers that Mettlesome, a rising regional comedy troupe, only began assembling in mid-November, we expected, and saw, uneven material on this maiden voyage.

But under head writer Jack Reitz’s direction, a sextet of actors scored repeatedly in the twenty-three brisk sketches that comprise this ninety-minute, two-act revue. Two Months In explores a constellation of current political themes in our state and country, after two mere months of the Trump presidency, and the difficulty of that enterprise, alone, is well worth noting. Finding any humor in so ominous a cultural moment isn’t easy. It then has to be refined so it isn’t too on the nose.

The opening sketch, “Dumped Russia,” provides a case in point. In it, Rishan Dhamija personifies the Russian government as a jilted suitor who no longer gets his calls returned by Trump. When a White House functionary picks up the phone instead, Dhamija’s deer-in-headlights swain pretends to be a customer service rep from Blue Apron, but eventually the acrimony spills out: “We used to talk every night,” he whines. “Now it’s nothing! He’s ghosting me!”

The show also underlines what a package deal sketch comedy has to be. Good writing in sequences like “Gabitha and Cheryl” and “Pregnant Mommy Knows Best” skewered sexism and gender roles while showcasing the talents of the ensemble, including Amy Hallett and Caitlin Wells. “A Generic Dinner in Today’s America” displayed the strengths of the entire group. The best work of the night, the rewarding solo “Job Interview,” spotlighted Dhamija again in a pointed jab at current changes in immigration policy. Another sketch fielded loopy populist suggestions on what a North Carolina legislature no longer defined as a full democracy might put in as its replacement.

Elsewhere, vivid characterizations from Marcus Zollicoffer, Josh Rowsey, and Shane Smith lifted iffy material into more rewarding territory.

Twentieth-century dissident Vladimir Bukovsky noted that political humor was one of the most potent weapons of resistance in the former Soviet Union. In 1945, George Orwell noted that the reason would-be dictators ban satire at their expense is because “every joke is a tiny revolution.”

One seemed underway last Saturday night in Carrboro. Catch it before it closes this weekend.

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