One of the best things about SF Sketchfest every year is getting to watch all the fantastic talent of The Thrilling Adventure Hour. For any unfamiliar with this show, it’s a live, staged version of an old time radio show, and it’s never failed to entertain me for all the years I’ve been there to witness it. Thankfully, this year proved to be far less hectic than last year’s performance, for me at least. Last weekend (Saturday, to be exact), thanks to an earlier show, I was already in the city and had no trouble getting to Brava Theater Center with plenty of time before the lights dimmed.
The performance began with an introduction to the show’s band, the Andy Paley Orchestra. Unfortunately, someone had missed a cue somewhere, and no one appeared on the stage. Unfazed, they started once more. This time, the night’s informal host announcer, Hal Lublin materialized, and the show began. As usual, the first bit was a “commercial;” these are always humorous fictive sponsor products like Workjuice Brand Coffee or Patriot Brand Cigarettes. In this instance, however, Craig Cackowski appeared as the owner of a small town office supply store, offering a huge “mea culpa discount” for a product recall, detailing incredibly specific instructions on how to dispose of the pens in question.
After a Workjuice players song, the first sketch of the night began: Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars. Introduced again by Lublin, Sparks Nevada (played by Marc Evan Jackson) began by stating that he was no longer a marshal. So, “who’s minding Mars?” As it turned out, it was Busy Philipps‘ character, the Red Plains Rider. After a quick theme song by Mark Gagliardi, who plays Croach the Tracker, the audience quickly learned that Sparks is no longer marshaling Mars, but instead working at a local hardware store. In walked would-be robber, Billy the Boss (Jason Ritter), a “quick-draw outlaw robot.” Billy attempted to rob the hardware store, but Sparks thwarted him with a birdhouse, simply telling him no. “Here comes the right now marshal right now!” As Croach and the Red Plains Rider joined the scene, it became quickly apparent that she was, for some reason, talking unnaturally. She spoke in a voice entirely different from her typical twang, using big words that didn’t quite make sense; it was implied that Billy’s fellow robber Pistol Pete had gotten away due to RPR’s stumbling over her own words and losing focus. There was a bit of explanation to reveal that RPR was speaking that way to try to impress her new boyfriend, Croach, and his martian tribe. She believed they didn’t accept her, though he insisted they did. Ultimately, it came out that she was bothered that he wouldn’t hold her hand in front of his own kind; he held her “appendage” as she “desires.” They decided not to let “this sort of thing get in the way of marshaling” as the robot sheriff (Cackowski) came in, creating a necessary diversion for Billy. Sparks smashed a birdhouse on him, knocking him out. “I’m a marshal,” Sparks reminded himself as well as the audience. “And I will be again. Where? Mars? Earth? Good question.” And with that cliffhanger, the scene concluded.
The next sketch was Phillip Fathom, Deep Sea Detective. The title character, played by Lublin, teamed up with the Righteous Brothers (Paul F. Tompkins and Matt Gourley), a pair of “holy high-fivers” who tried to save Fathom’s soul while fighting crime. Fathom, however, wasn’t interested: “justice is the highest power!” In this instance, they were trying to pick up a character known as Mrs. Troutfire. Before long, the Righteous Brothers left Fathom, telling him, “you’ll see us soon, I bet.” As Gagliardi appeared for a voiceover bit, investigateens Rhonda (Annie Savage) and Carolyn (Melanie Lynsky), alongside Captain Gabriel Backwater (Adam Savage) joined the scene. As Rhonda got carried away with her imagination (in this case, she was a unicorn who spoke with a funny “unicorn voice,” and threatened to turn all the others into dragons, who spoke with different funny dragon voices). Fathom returned, whereupon Carolyn wasted no time in jockeying for a promotion, insisting she was “probably the best investigateen, right?”
“Don’t dream big. Dream proportional,” Fathom chided her. When he left she followed him; Rhonda and Backwater left as well to see a movie. After a voiceover explanation, two “super French villains” (Philipps and Scott Aukerman, both of whom do pretty solid French accents, if no one minds my saying so). According to Aukerman’s character, they were “misanthropes. But for fishes… fishanthropes!”
“Ahh, yes.” Philipps replied. “Oui, I mean! Oui! That was close!” They plotted against Fathom, who entered as they talked about murdering him, “the one that got away, the white whale.” They pointed their harpoons at him, noting that they were “fitted with cameras” so as to be able to film his death. Thwarting them with his acrobatics, Fathom noted, “I get a harder workout on my lobstacle course!” Naturally, Carolyn showed up to help him, trying to become his “sidekick.” Fathom, instead, saved her from the super villains. As the Frenchies were tied up, they insisted that they would “laugh last, and most arrogantly.” Hurt by Fathom’s repeated denials to her promotion attempts, Carolyn left, saying she’d given up for good. Fathom sighed, chagrined that he hadn’t been able to promote her as planned because she “didn’t have what it takes to last one last rejection,” and that “maybe someday I’ll find one as special as I believe them to be. Until then, I swim on.”
Next came another commercial bit with Gagliardi on voiceover, this time featuring Annie Savage & Cackowski in a ridiculous and amusing Patriot Brand cigarette commercial that tried to replicate the famous “how many licks” Tootsie Pop commercial.
Finally, it was time for the third and final segment of the evening: Beyond Belief, my favorite part. The story centered, as always, around married medium couple Frank (Tompkins) and Sadie Doyle (Paget Brewster, who lost a page of her script as soon as she took the stage. A kind woman in the front row stood to hand it back to her; Brewster waved it off, undaunted, telling the woman to keep it and thanking her). The Doyles were in Maize (?) County, “home to america’s finest corn whiskey,” when they stumbled upon a “whiskey stand, like a lemonade stand all grown up.” They ordered “two of your whiskiest whiskeys,” and notice quickly that the clink makes an unusual sound, different from the typical martini clink in their hotel home. The whiskey purveyor, Harlan (Hodgman), refused to join them in a drink, saying that he didn’t drink, but that his wife did – to excess. (“My favorite toast!” and “Between the two of us, we drink enough for the four of us.”)
Naturally, it wasn’t long before they were asked for their supernatural help: Harlan was constantly haunted by the ghost of his baseball-playing father (Mike Phirman). A mysterious voice had apparently told him that if he built a baseball field in his backyard, “the ghosts of famous baseball players, including your father” would come play. His dad (known as “Righty”), however, bugged him constantly, asking him to watch or he’ll “throw a tantrum or good China. Or a sofa.” Sadie, it turned out, was quite a baseball fan and wanted to watch a game, so as to amuse herself as well as to solve Harlan’s problem “because he makes a nice whiskey.” A bit reluctantly, Frank agreed as well, insisting “there better be whiskey corn concessions!”
Harlan, it was revealed, didn’t care for sports. He did reconcile with his father like the mysterious voice had promised, but he had since learned to hate baseball… and his father. Frank and Sadie were confused: making peace was usually the impetus for a spirit to move on. It turned out that Righty’s ghost had never won, so they had reconciled amidst a game he’d lost. “He’s trapped until he wins a game!” Unfortunately, they believed he may be “trapped forever, because he’s terrible at baseball.”
Thankfully, another ghost of a baseball player, Stan Carnassa (later pronounced Carsonata, played at any rate by Adsit) showed up, explaining that it was all part of his revenge. He was, it became evident, the owner of the mysterious voice that had told Harlan to build the field. In his lifetime, Stan had been known as “the goat,” known for striking out, and had died by choking to death on a club sandwich at a deli while waiting to sign his contract. “If you hate Righty, why tell his son to build a baseball field?” To win a game against the team that fired me, it turned out. Because both of them were terrible baseball players, Harlan realized that “maybe my dad has a chance at beating him and he could finally get out of here!” With the quick recruitment of several civil war ghosts for the team, the game was set to begin. Lublin appeared to do voiceover, explaining that both teams were “God awful,” and that there was “no joy in Iowa.” As may have been expected, Righty tanked the game. The civil war ghosts, who’d died on their way to war, finally finished something they started, allowing them to move on. The goat decided he was wrong about the team he hated: “I wanted to join them, not beat them! Like the expression!” Righty asked if it was true, inviting Stan to join him. Before he could strike out, the goat hit one: “going, going, gone,” and so was he. Righty, too, then began to fade, for having turned the goat into a hero by getting a base hit. “Harlan, watch me go into the corn field and disappear,” he said as he faded away into the afterlife. Harlan thanked the Doyles as he left. “It was quite a day in quite a place for quite a reason!” Clink! Lublin appeared with a teaser for the next BB episode before Gagliardi took over to wrap the show before the curtain call, closing with a song. During the final song, many of the cast members remained on stage to dance, especially hams Brewster, Gagliardi & Evans.
And that concluded another fun-filled night with one of my favorite annual shows. Here’s looking forward to many great episodes to come!