Sketchfest Review: The Thrilling Adventure Hour at Marines’ Memorial Theatre, 1/21/2012

by Stacy Scales on January 22, 2012

No photography allowed! Thanks to for this pic of some of the players!

I admit it. When I took my seat in the Marines’ Memorial Theatre last night, I didn’t really know what to expect. I requested this show because I wanted to be a part of SF Sketchfest (last year I saw Maximum Volume with Greg Behrendt and Matt Nathanson with a friend, and there met Gordon Elgart, which eventually led to my writing for Spinning Platters). Furthermore, I was excited to see Colin Hanks, Busy Philipps, and Paget Brewster (to name a few). Though the title probably should’ve tipped me off, I didn’t know I would be seeing a staged production like an old-school radio show, nor that it would be chock-full of familiar (and abundantly funny) faces.

The show is written regularly by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, and would be much less entertaining without the musical punctuation of Andy Paley and the Andy Paley Orchestra. The evening’s Work Juice Players included Paget Brewster, Craig Cackowski, Mark Gagliardi, John Hodgman, Mark Evan Jackson, Hal Lublin, Joshua Malina, Bruce McCullough, Kevin Pollak, Andy Richter, Annie Savage, Paul F. Tompkins, John Dimaggio, John Ennis, and James Urbaniak. In addition, special guests included Colin Hanks, Samm Levine, Busy Philipps (currently she plays Laurie on CougarTown), Gillian Jacobs (who you may know as Britta on Community), and Chris Meloni (best known for Law & Order: SVU), making the night all the more memorable. Nearly every single time someone new walked onstage, it was someone I’d seen on TV or in a movie. This was a seriously star-studded group of funny people!

The show began with a commercial from our sponsors – Work Juice Brand coffee. Two bored girls (Philipps and Savage) are at work in an office building in Yourtown, USA. One girl exclaims “TGIF!” to the other, who points out that it’s only Tuesday. As they lament the dreary work-week, the King of Coffee (Tompkins, in a sparkling plastic crown) enters, explaining why Work Juice Brand coffee is superior to the Leading Brand. As they taste the coffee and discover that he’s correct, he commands them to kneel. Philipps’ character inquires as to whether there is a Queen of Coffee…sadly, there is not, but the king could never marry someone “common born.” As he cries “off with her head,” the Work Juice coffee jingle ends the commercial.

The first of four serials found us checking in with Sparks Nevada (Jackson) – a human Marshal on Mars. According to his theme song, he “rights the outlaw wrongs on Mars.” This episode included a date with Rebecca Rose Rushmore (Jacobs), regular hilarious interruptions by barkeep (Malina), and villains Los Banditos Mutantes (a trio including Hanks & Richter), who were unbelievably funny with their over-the-top accents. Gagliardi played Sparks’ Martian counterpart, Croach the Tracker, whose deadpan humor was an early highlight of the evening. Jacobs was one of the few that may not be a regular part of this show, but her comedic timing was excellent, not missing a beat with the show’s regulars.

After the episode, another quick commercial: this time for Big Brothers Big Sisters. The next serial was called The Adventures of Captain Laserbeam – the number one radio show for kids! DiMaggio played Captain Laserbeam, the superhero of Apex City. After the theme song, the title of the episode (“Disenchantment Under the Sea”) was announced, and the scene begins with the activation of the Captain’s distress call by one of two sidekick-style kids. The problem? Villainous Fish Wife (Jacobs) stole all the animals from the local aquarium, with the help of villain Mr. Octopus, her new husband. Jacobs’ comedic prowess became increasingly apparent to me throughout the night, but this character was my least favorite of the evening. It was certainly entertaining, well-written, and quite witty, but compared to the laugh-out-loud-in-a-room-full-of-strangers pieces it was sandwiched between, it fell just a bit short for me. On its own, I’d probably appreciate a sketch like this one, though, with its innuendo and some tongue-in-cheek punchlines.

The next ad began as a cigarette commecial, but was invaded by the King of Coffee, insisting that Work Juice Brand coffee is the best ever. Once again, Tompkins was hilarious, insisting, “if you don’t like it… I’ll have your head!”

Next up: the Cross-Time Adventures of Colonel Tick-Tock, which began like the others with a theme song. Craig Cackowski played Colonel Tick-Tock, who was happy to have a night off with a cup of tea, an Oscar Wilde book, and the lovely Constance (Savage), who admitted she wished she could go back in time with him at some point to meet his friend Mr. Wilde. He apologized, but promised to take her if the opportunity presented itself. Unfortunately, he was called away by the Trick Clock to 19th century London, where Oscar Wilde was dying. Though opportunity had in fact presented itself, Constance still was unable to go and the adventure really began. Wilde (Ennis), alone, is frustrated to realize there is no one around to hear his last words as he lay on his deathbed. Before long, however, he was joined by a second, younger version of himself, and then another, and another. As the problem is realized, villainess Auntie Meridian (Philipps) – sister of Father Time – pats herself on the back for having created a time paradox. Somewhere between the over-the-top Wilde humor (as eventually there were up to eight Wildes onstage), Philipps fantastic villain voice, and Cackowski’s timing, this part of the show really had the room cracking up. I admit, I’ve been a fan of Busy’s for a long time, but it’s because of this sketch in particular that I left the evening thinking she was even better than I’d previously known. She truly shined as this silly, woebegone, would-be bad girl. As Colonel Tick-Tock saved the day once again, this bit ended with a song of celebration.

The night’s final piece was called Beyond Belief, about a married couple of spooky mediums who live in New York City’s Plaza Hotel. Frank (Tompkins) and Sadie Doyle (Brewster) quickly discovered the horror of the evening – all the bottles of liquor in their hotel room are positively empty. They find a “rainy day bottle…” alas, it too is empty. Thankfully, they find a “rainier day bottle,” and Sadie reports with glee that there’s something in it, but it’s covered with dust. She must rub the dust off it to get a better look – in so doing, a small man with mist where his legs should be is propelled from the bottle. The Doyles whine to him about their lack of liquor, and only when they realize that he’s wearing a turban and floating by said mist do they begin to suspect that he might be a genie. As he manages to get them to wish for more liquor, he grants them all the alcohol in the world but can then not get them to budge. They have no interest in other wishes, except perhaps that he will go and leave them to drink in piece. From there, the story includes the arrival of another genie and a genie union rep, and the Doyles notice how they all tend to repeat themselves, thus creating a drinking game – “when they repeat themselves, we drink!” After a moment, though, they decide to add “when they don’t… we drink!” While the dialogue and the story of this bit were particularly funny to me, it was absolutely Paget Brewster who stole the show. I know she’s been playing this part for some time, and I can only imagine she gets better with time. True, she’s one of the main reasons I wanted to see this show, as I’ve been following her career since Friends, but her Sadie voice had me in stitches. She blends bored and privileged in such a way that you can see that she’s obviously had some experience with such high society types, and is able to use it as a basis for her good-natured ribbing of that particular walk of life. As far as I’m concerned, she’s brilliant – her brand of humor is smart, subtle, and lacks the mean tone of so many funny girls today.

The show concluded with a big musical number and a curtain call introducing all the special guests. Colin Hanks put on a San Francisco 49ers hat to the riotous applause of the crowd. As Chris Meloni was announced, my jaw dropped – I honestly hadn’t recognized him on the stage, because he’d had the hood of his sweatshirt up while onstage for a small role (which is why I didn’t mention it otherwise in my review – I didn’t make a note of it, so I’ve forgotten which sketch he was in). I do know from having seen him in Wet Hot American Summer that he’s capable of comedy, and after having watched him for years on Law & Order: SVU, let it suffice to say that I was happy just to see him in person. This event was far more than I expected it to be, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I’ve already subscribed to the Largo, where they perform monthly. If you have the chance to see this show, don’t miss it – it was an unadulterated blast!

Stacy Scales

California native. Word nerd. Music lover. Linguaphile. Amateur foodie. Basketball junkie. Travel enthusiast. Future therapist.

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