Traditionally, journalists avoid inserting themselves into the story they’re telling.
But on Friday night, when members of the League of Pointless Improvisors at Ann Arbor’s Pointless Brewery and Theatre struggled to find an audience volunteer to spin the “genre wheel” – and thus get the new show “Cue This” rolling – well, I raised my hand.
Yes, this fulfilled a minor “Wheel of Fortune” fantasy I’ve had since I was six (when 3D caricature Chuck Woolery was the host), but also, when the wheel landed on “rom com,” a Leaguer asked me to name a kind of romantic comedy I haven’t seen before, but would like to.
Oh. Whoops. I guess I wasn’t just spinning the wheel. I was also providing the basic framework for the evening’s show. That’s some pretty serious journalist-insertion.
But we’re all just improvising these days, right? So after pausing, and thinking of both my personal history and one of my all-time favorite rom-coms (“When Harry Met Sally”), I said “shikse love story” – which, let’s face it, we HAVE all seen on film, thanks to Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. But in that movie, it’s not explicit. It’s not something that’s discussed.
And my gentiles-gone-wild attraction to not just my Jewish spouse, but also the likes of Jeff Goldblum, Paul Rudd, and Jon Stewart clearly merits some comedic treatment.
So after one audience member picked a card to determine a lighting cue (green) that stage manager Peter Felsman (hmm … ) would execute at some point during the show, and another patron selected six numbered balls from a small rolling barrel to determine random sound cues (bomb drop, breaking glass, news intro, etc.) that would be integrated into the action, too, the lights went down, and the improvisers got ready.
Friday night’s “Cue This” cast consisted of Corene Ford, Andy Reid, Matt Swartz, Allyson Miko, Havah Roussel, Katie Parzych, and Matt Townsend, and the show was co-developed and directed by Tori and Jason Tomalia, the married owners and founders of Pointless.
Though the conceit supposedly anchoring the show’s extended, improvised comedy sketch involves the arbitrary sound and lighting cues – hence the name “Cue This” – these atmospheric additions take a back seat to the story that’s being constructed on the fly. Yes, sometimes the players run with a sound cue, building a meaty-if-momentary tangent around it; but more often than not, they dismiss it with a quick, offhand remark as explanation.
For Friday night’s performance, Reid played a 34 year old Jewish man who still lives at home – on Jesus Lake! – with his loud, blunt mother (Ford) and his nudging sister (Miko), who drags him to a local-newspaper-organized protest in support of protesters. Roussel played a gentile reporter who works at a “journalism place” and has organized and promoted the protest while ducking her parents’ (Swartz and Townsend) pleas to attend a church service.
The two main characters argued, only to, of course, find themselves absurdly drawn to each other. And as is always the case with improv, the biggest laughs stem not from quick-witted replies, but from watching the performers scramble to think and vocalize the next piece of an invisible puzzle.
Two “Cue This” shows happen at Pointless on Friday nights, at 8 and 10 p.m., with a few additional Leaguers pulling together short sketches from absolutely nothing in between sets. Plus, as is explained before the show begins, patrons are welcome to buy drinks, or visit the restroom, during the sets, rather than waiting until the end.
Friday night’s audience for “Cue This” was small – giving Pointless Brewery an even more intimate black-box feel – but I’d recommend checking it out. Though (or perhaps because) watching live performers make stuff up on a stage just a few feet away runs directly counter to our Digital Age binge-watching TV culture, and many people are quick to dismiss improv as an overly eager performance style, “Cue This” struck me as a charming, fun change of pace. There’s always something riveting about seeing people create something from nothing, and with improv, the audience gets to feel as though they’re helping to build this off-kilter world, too.
A world where Jews and gentiles can somehow find love on the banks of Jesus Lake…