#ME THREE, An Alternate Review by Richard J. Griffin*

Me Three: A Guide to New Beginnings at Daydream Theater (Credit: Richard Griffin)
Me Three: A Guide to New Beginnings at Daydream Theater
(Credit: Richard Griffin)

After having a delicious pre-theater meal at Cafe Cazzata (try the Chicken Bocchino, it’s to die for) with my life partner, Troy, we decided to jet over to historic Woonsocket, Rhode Island, to see Lenny Schwartz’s newest screwball farce, #MeThree: A Guide To New Beginnings. Now, Troy, being German, typically prefers more highbrow theater like Antigone and Natalie Needs A Nightie, but after a hard week of writing theater reviews, I needed something more frothy and, well, just plain fun!

Lenny, as you may know, is the master of writing bioplays like The Inside of His Severed Head: The Vic Morrow Story and The Man Who Saw Snoopy, which from what I could gather, was about the life of the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. But this time, Lenny paints the stage with nothing but laughs, mistaken identities, pies in the face, and — in the case of the hunky leading man Derek Laurendeau, cross-dressing! Which brings up a very important point about #MeThree, that even though the guffaws, we must not laugh at those damned souls who choose to wear women’s clothing. This is America after all, and if a man wants to look like a walking abomination to the Lord in a black cocktail dress, then God forbid I should judge.

Where was I? Oh yes. #MeThree is a zany romantic comedy where the studly Mr. Laurendeau, who plays Hank, a newspaper writer, has started a fiery love affair with the beautiful and talented Jamie Lyn Bagley, who plays the role of THE WOMAN. In this battle of the sexes, Schwartz lets his young lovers take off the gloves and give themselves a brutal, bloody beating of the heart. For Derek’s character, it’s a case of the old “Women, you can’t live with ‘em, you can’t ship them off to live in a prison colony!” Laurendeau and Bagley shine like shiny things in their roles, and their sexual tension was almost too uncomfortable for some people in the audience, who fled for the exits never to be seen again before intermission. I, personally, roared with laughter during the eight-minute scene where Jamie Lyn continually kneed Derek in the groin while Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” played to hysterically funny effect!

But nothing is fair in love and community theater, so along comes the evil corporate tycoon, Mr. HOLLYWOOD, who was THE WOMAN’s former lover when she worked at Electric Boat. Played with evil aplomb by stage veteran Michael Thurber (you’ll all remember when he won that Medal of Valor during the war between The Ocean State Theater Company and The Arctic Playhouse in 2009), he comes in during the second act to break up this love affair! Hank wants things between him and THE WOMAN to be ME TOO, but the evil Mr. HOLLYWOOD wants it to be ME THREE! While Mr. Thurber is at his wicked best here, I thought the 30-minute “Tribute to Liberace” interlude he performed was a bit much for my already taxed bladder.

Act Three is mostly taken up with the arrival of the British Pigeon sisters, with both roles played by Sarah Reed, in her 230th play this year in Rhode Island. She brings a wonderful energy to her scenes, and is a sexy foil to the more laid-back Oscar and the always nervous Felix!

I would like to spend an entire paragraph now talking about Derek Laurendeau. Derek is a fine young actor with luscious pillowy lips who I’ve seen in dozens of plays in New England over the past few years. He truly knows how to command a scene. His performance shines here, and he exudes a raw, almost primal sexuality. With every line he utters with his masculine, deep voice, you’ll quiver with delight! I was only disappointed in one aspect of the show, and that is that Mr. Laurendeau never removed his shoes and socks (even though there were many opportunities to do so), while a spotlight lovingly caresses every hill and valley of his feet. I hope future directors will take note of this criminal oversight.

Dan Martin throws a lot of pies around the stage and screams a lot. Personally, I didn’t like his use of four-letter words, and it made me profoundly uncomfortable to have to explain to Troy what a “blumpkin” was.

At one point during the show, during Jamie Lyn’s show-stopping performance of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” someone dressed in a Spiderman costume fell from the catwalk and crashed onto the stage floor. This provided the biggest laugh of the night!

Victoria Paradis is delightful doing her one-woman tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express, which just happens to be Troy’s favorite bit of intellectual theater.

Anastasia LaFrance plays Queen Mary the Second, and I didn’t understand her at all. But I’ve never really understood women … I mean who does?

But what is Lenny Schwartz trying to say with #MeThree? What is the message? What is the deeper meaning? Personally, I think Lenny was saying, “Look at me! I’m funny! I’m a funny man making with the slamming doors, and the screaming, and the pies in the face!” Your interpretation may vary, but I highly doubt it. For those of you looking for a night out at the theater — in Woonsocket — you could do a lot worse than #MeThree!

Daydream Theater at the RISE Playhouse presents Lenny Schwartz’s #Me Three: A Guide to New Beginnings, through April 27. 142 Clinton St, Woonsocket.

*Richard J. Griffin was born in Westerly, Rhode Island in 1955. He currently lives in the good section of Cranston with his life partner Troy Müller. Together they enjoy growing their prize roses, wine tasting and fighting over who will take the dominant role in the bedroom.

Editor’s Note: Richard J. Griffin is affiliated with the #Me Three production and writes in response to an earlier review, which can be seen here: motifri.com/daydream-methree




Good-Natured Political Satire: Charlie Hall and the Ocean State Follies

Charlie Hall started the Ocean State Follies in 1992. Over the next two decades, it became the renowned and definitive political comedy and satire act in Rhode Island. He retired the show after 20 years, taking a hiatus for five years, but recently revived it.

The Follies have a regular monthly PVD combined dinner and comedy show at Via Roma on Federal Hill, the next on July 28. Other shows in Woonsocket, Cranston and South County are expected to be announced soon, Hall said.

Charlie Hall's Ocean State Follies 2018
Charlie Hall’s Ocean State Follies 2018

“The past four shows that we’ve had have been sell-outs starting with Chan’s… and at that show were [former Trump campaign manager and current independent candidate for governor] Joe Trillo and [Cranston mayor and Republican candidate for governor] Allan Fung. I knew they were going to be there, so I did specific material just about them, and they loved it, the crowd loved it… It was the Ocean State Follies presents ‘Lady and the Trump’ – [Governor] Gina [Raimondo] and Trump as kind of a Sonny and Cher hosting their own show… The next month we brought [first lady] Melania into the show and [North Korean dictator] Kim Jong-un,” Hall said.

“Then this month at Via Roma on July 28, just when you think you’ve run out of material, Joe Trillo runs aground in the ocean, hits a rock or whatever and takes on water… so this show is going to be centered about Joe Trillo and his little mishap there,” Hall said. “I’m writing a parody of the ‘Gilligan’s Island’ theme song… ‘[sings] Sit right down and you’ll hear a tale,/a tale of a fateful yacht/that started on a Charlestown beach/and ended on a rock.’”

Referencing Trillo’s controversial decision to run as an independent rather than a Republican to avoid facing Fung in a primary he would likely lose, I told Hall, “I made a Twitter comment with a bit of a harder edge about that, ‘Metaphor piles upon metaphor as Joe Trillo runs his $2 million, 65-foot yacht aground in his quest for the white whale that made off with his leg and his Republican Party membership.’” Hall laughed and said of his own comedy style, “That’s very funny, very clever, but I can’t be too ‘inside baseball,’… I’ve had friends, comics who say, ‘You’ve got to get more vicious in your material, you’ve got to hit it, you’ve got to hit their funny bones, you’ve got to go for the jugular,’ and I don’t always do that.”

“If I tried to write these kind of things, they would tend toward the vicious. I’d have Joe Trillo chasing Trump around with a harpoon,” I told Hall. He laughed and replied, “You know what gets tough sometimes is I’ve been around so long. I know Joe Trillo and his wife; I know Allan Fung and his wife… sometimes I know these people and I have to decide just how vicious I want to get with them.

“It’s difficult these days if you do… jokes about Trump, half the crowd likes him and half the crowd doesn’t,” Hall said. “Usually when I do skits about Trump, we portray him as kind of a dummy. He tells the crowd, ‘Things are going well. I just bombed, Sicily, uh, Syria. And North Pakistan, uh, Afghanistan. Them too.’ The crowd still likes to laugh… but you know there’s a big chunk of the crowd that loves him.

“My audience is usually that 35 to 65 demo[graphic] that read the paper or listen to talk radio… As you get older, maybe you get more politically aware and Rhode Island is basically a blue state. I’m all-around poke-fun-at-everybody, nobody gets too hurt and nobody gets too riled up.” Asked whether the current political climate is drawing more people into politics, especially young people, Hall answered, “Whether you like Trump or not, he has done something that has energized… because Trump is such a megalomaniac and a media whore.” Hall said that Trump “is what you call comedy gold. Comedy gold! Just watch Steve Colbert every night do, not even a regular eight-minute, but a 20-minute monologue on Trump. Every night.

“My show is not overly political. Whether it’s the Big Blue Bug, whether it’s the PawSox stadium, whether it’s traffic tickets from the speed cams, it’s stuff that everybody can relate to,” Hall said. “People come to my show to have a good time, laugh at some of the topical events that are happening, and some of the local politics and some of the national politics.”

Rhode Island produces so much material ripe for comedy, Hall said, “If I used all the things that happened and all the scandals, the show would be 12 hours long. We’d have to pass out water and toilet paper for the crowd just to stay there.”

Information and tickets: oceanstatefollies.net

Video trailer: youtube.com/watch?v=8u3v-Kzzxpo




Newport Playhouse Begins The Cabaret Comedy Club

The Newport Playhouse & Cabaret Restaurant is known for a few things, including a quality buffet, an intimate theater and (surprise surprise) a cabaret. They’re looking to expand their repertoire to include showcasing some of the best stand-up comedians in the area for a continuing monthly series called “The Cabaret Comedy Club.”

Rob Greene is a Rhode Island comedian who will be producing the comedy series and performing in it. We talked about the idea and their upcoming first show, which will take place on Thursday, July 19. “I’m really excited to bring top-notch comedians to such a perfect venue for comedy. The cabaret lounge has a low ceiling (literally), but the talent that we’re bringing in has a high one. They may not be household names, but they’re some of the best comics working today and this is such a great venue to showcase their talents. These shows are not to be missed,” Greene threatened.

I booked Rob Greene recently when I headlined The Comedy Connection with my comedy partner Brad Rohrer. Greene did not disappoint, and he was an essential addition to our show. Greene has been a staple of the Rhode Island comedy scene for some time, and does a weekly show called ROFL House Comedy at the Belmont Club in Fall River, Mass, with his co-host Andrew Williams.
“Ray Harrington, who headlines our first show, is one of the best ‘under the radar’ comics in the country. No two of his shows are the same. Tom Dustin is our second headliner on August 16, and he headlines shows all over the country. We were lucky that each of them had room in their schedules. Our opening acts are chosen from some of the really great local talent New England has to offer.”

Greene’s right. Booking Ray Harrington for the first show in the Cabaret Comedy Club series is the right move to set the tone. Harrington is a widely trusted comedian on the East Coast. He headlines clubs around New England regularly, and he’s released two albums with Stand Up! Records, where he’s labelmates with Hannibal Buress, Lewis Black and David Cross (among many others). Harrington’s first album, The Worst is Over, debuted at the top of the comedy charts on iTunes, and his most recent album, Overwhelmed, debuted at Number 1 on Amazon and the top of the Billboard Comedy Charts. Harrington’s documentary Be a Man won the LA Comedy Festival and was featured as New and Noteworthy internationally on iTunes, and was eventually bought by Hulu. I asked this critical darling how he felt about headlining the first show in the upcoming Cabaret Comedy Club series.

“When I was asked to do the show at the Newport Playhouse, I was really excited.” Harrington insisted. “I’ve heard great things about the venue, and I think that what they’re building for a comedy series is great. I love performing in Newport, and the comedians on this show are some of my favorite people to work with. I can’t think of a better way to spend a too hot night in a too hot month of a too hot season.”

The Cabaret Comedy Club will begin on Thu, Jul 19 with Marie Forster, Rob Greene and Ray Harrington. Tickets are available at newportplayhouse.com




A Night of Comedy with Barry Rothbart and Greg Barris

Greg Barris
Greg Barris

On Wednesday, June 13, two comedians will bring their unique brand of humor to The Comedy Connection in East Providence.

Your headliner for the evening, Barry Rothbart, has performed his stand-up on “The Tonight Show,” “Conan,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” and his own Comedy Central Presents Special. Currently, he can be seen on the new Showtime series “Kidding with Jim Carrey” and in the upcoming Melissa McCarthy movie, Happytime Murders. He was named a “New Face” and “Best of the Fest” performer at the Just For Laughs Montreal Comedy Fest, and as one of Variety Magazine’s 10 Comics to Watch. He has also co-starred in the ABC series “Downward Dog,” as well as making appearances in The Wolf of Wall Street, on MTV’s “Punk’d” and in Demetri Martin’s indie feature, Dean.

The other featured comedian is Greg Barris. Greg is a staple in New York’s downtown stand-up scene and is the creator of Heart Of Darkness, ‘The World’s Most Important Live Event” — a psychedelic showcase of comedy, live music and fringe scientists, which has been a frequent Time Out New York Critic’s Pick, much loved by BrooklynVegan, and hailed as “excellent” by The New Yorker. PAPER describes Greg as “the perfect combination of very good looking, hilarious and super-weird.” Greg’s comedic shorts have been featured on “Funny or Die,” “College  Humor” and “Jay Leno’s Laugh Squad,” to name a few, and his debut comedy album Shame Wave is available on aspecialthing Records.

Barry Rothbart
Barry Rothbart

Now that we’ve gotten introductions out of the way, I had a chance to sit down and chat with the boys through the wonders of technology.

Dan Martin (Motif): Hey guys, how are you?

The Guys: Great. We just shared a peach. It was super ripe.

DM: Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions?

TG: I’m going to mind soon, but not yet.

DM: How long have you guys been performing respectively/together?

TG: Separately around 15 years. Together we did one tour a few years back. We didn’t argue once.

DM: Is this your first tour together?

TG: Yes.

DM: Greg, have you always been good looking?

TG: Yes. Barry has never been though.

DM: Is this your first time in Providence?

TG: No, Passed through for a reason I can’t remember.

DM: Do you have any favorite facts about RI?

TG: Yes, I just heard its the home of the fifth longest orgasm ever recorded.  Amazing.

DM: Barry, you were named a “new face,” what was your old face like?

TG: Riddled with eczema.

DM: Do you have any other stops in New England?

TG: Boston and Chicopee, MA and Brooklyn, NY.

And there we have it —  the unflappable Barry Rothbart and Greg Barris. Inspiring us all to pursue our dreams. I’m glad they could find the time in their hearts and busy schedules to teach us the values of eating healthy and sharing. Joke’s on them, however, as I asked way more than a couple of questions! Greg gives me a sense that he is not only modest about his looks, but honest about Barry’s appearance as well. Which, of course, is probably why they get along so well. The key to a lasting friendship, after all, is honesty. So, please come on out to the Comedy Connection and put a former rash-covered face to a name. If all else fails, maybe we can try for Sixth Longest Orgasm ever recorded. And, if that fails, we can string seven together and lie about it.

A NIGHT OF COMEDY WITH BARRY ROTHBART AND GREG BARRIS. Wednesday, June 13 at The Comedy Connection. 39 Warren Ave, East Providence. Doors 7pm, Show 8pm. Tickets and info available online at ricomedyconnection.com




Christopher Titus “Amerigeddon,” Comedy Connection, Jan 25

Comedian Christopher Titus
Comedian Christopher Titus

Comedy is always at its best when it makes people think while making them laugh, being honest and straight to the point in a humorous manner. Comedian Christopher Titus has been doing this for three decades now and it doesn’t seem like he’s going to be stopping any time soon. He has a new performance called “Amerigeddon” which sheds light on the divide affecting the United States while also cracking a few jokes to unite us all. Titus will be at the Comedy Connection in East Providence on Jan 25 for a night that no comedy fan should miss.

We talked about his thoughts on the current political landscape, the never-ending array of bets you can take on President Trump’s fate in 2018, his new movie Special Unit and what the new year has in store.

Rob Duguay (Motif): Your new stand-up routine, titled “Amerigeddon,” is you trying to solve through comedy the divide our country is currently experiencing. Other than the current president, do you think the divide is the result of lack of communication between people and the rise of hasty generalizations as a reaction to when two people don’t see eye-to-eye on things? Or do you think it’s something else?

Christopher Titus: I just think it’s a disease. I think every society eventually finds it. The Middle East has been in turmoil for years and anybody in this country who looks at that and says “They’re the exact same people, why are they fighting?” doesn’t realize that we’re doing the exact same thing. Everybody believes something different about someone who doesn’t agree with them politically. Some people think that every redneck is a four-wheel truck-drivin’ guy who is sleeping with his sister and some people think that every liberal is eating kale salad out of the butt of his boyfriend.

That’s what people think and we develop these judgments. On top of that, if your side loses then people have their backup now because of social media. We’re not even talking to each other anymore. It’s so easy to scream at someone on-line now, and it’s something that would get your butt kicked in a parking lot if you said it to their face. We’ve all gotten a lot braver because we have this filter through the firewall of the internet where we can do what we want, how we want, and everybody is feeling tough. The reality is that nobody is.

I think we need to start talking again. I wanted to bring the country together, I originally started doing it just rippin’ on [Donald] Trump but that was too easy. On a daily basis there’s always something he’s doing. How do you screw up 400 times in 325 days? It’s insane. The only people happy are Lindsey Lohan and Charlie Sheen.

RD: You definitely make some great points. When you were writing the material for this, did you get any advice from any other political comedians? A lot of people know your material that’s based on growing up in a dysfunctional family and life experiences rather than politics.

CT: If you look at my stuff, I do a personal bit and I do kind of a social one. During the first “End of the World Tour” I did after 9/11, I talked about some political stuff and how our country was falling apart. My joke “Arm The Children” confronts the gun problem in our country. I’ve always kind of gone after it and this particular set of material just had to happen. I didn’t want to write this show, I had to write this show.

It was on TV every day and we’re in the weirdest place we’ve ever been in. The one thing I saw was that we’re ripping each other apart and nobody knows each other so I just had to write it but I didn’t talk to other comics. Some guys who are really good have had to apologize for things that they’ve said. The problem with that is when a comic apologizes then they lose all credibility. You can’t apologize and you just have to keep moving forward.

I’m pretty good at this, I’ve been doing this for 30-something years. If I see something then I need to write a joke about it, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to hit it. It usually works 90% of the time so I don’t worry about it. I didn’t want to be interviewing another comic because comedy doesn’t work like that, you don’t sit down and say “Oh I guess I’ll do a political show this time.” I was just watching the clown show thinking about how comical it all is and that I have to write about this.

RD: In an interview with the Chicago Tribune in April, you said that Trump would be out of office by August. That didn’t happen and he’s still in office. In fact, there’s a book that just came out about his first year in office called Fire and Fury that has really pissed him off. With it being a new year, do you think he’ll last as President through 2018 or will he get impeached?

CT: Honestly, with this guy you could take odds on a bunch of different things. When it comes to his health, he’s obese so his heart could lock up at any second over a taco bowl. His mental state is kind of deteriorating so he could have a stroke. Mueller and the Russia investigation is still going on. The thing about Mueller is that he’s kind of like a demon, he’s just so quiet and slowly creeping in, and that could all come to light tomorrow.

If he [Trump] goes crazy and wants to set off a nuke then the CIA could take him out. I don’t even know where to put the money on this guy, there are so many options. I think this investigation is going to rattle the country. I’m more concerned about that than anything. Are you concerned that our country has a chance of being destroyed because of this guy?

RD: Yeah, I find it to be very frightening. Especially when he tweets about North Korea and it seems like a big dick measuring contest. That’s really scary because you’re dealing with a guy who is viewed as a god in North Korea. Legitimately North Koreans believe this about Kim Jong-un and Trump wants to mess with this guy? Trump can only dream of being as mentally unhinged as Kim Jong-un and there’s no way he should mess with a guy who has been spending months testing missiles.

CT: Any man who talks about how big his button is has a very tiny button. It’s funny that you say “Trump can only dream of being as mentally unhinged as Kim Jong-un.” The crazy thing about all of this is that Trump is so insane that he pushed Kim Jong-un to start talking to South Korea, how nuts is that?

RD: That’s absolutely crazy.

CT: Even the craziest guy in the world is like “You know what? This guy is scaring me, I think I’m going to start some diplomacy.” (laughs)

RD: Everything seems to be being turned upside-down. Along with the new comedy act, you also have a new movie out called Special Unit. From the trailer it looks like a meeting of an adult version of Bad News Bears and Police Academy.

CT: I usually put it as if Mel Brooks did Lethal Weapon.

RD: That’s a pretty good analogy. You also wrote it and directed it, right?

CT: Yeah, it was something that Hollywood didn’t want to do. I’m here saying that I wanted to make these folks into cops, it’s really balls out funny, we’re not pulling any punches and I have a lot of friends who are disabled that get screwed with all the time so I wanted to do a movie where they end up being the heroes. They end up being the badasses and superheroes honestly.

RD: When you think about it, it’s also a cool message to put out to people. Since it was your first time doing something like this, how would you describe the experience?

CT: I have to be honest, it was scary. I’ve written before when I had my TV show and stuff along with writing a bunch of scripts, but the writing part wasn’t scary, I’m okay at that. The directing part scared me because I was also acting in it and I was working with guys that I respect so I didn’t want to be the guy that comes in and craps the bed. The first couple days were scary and then what happened was I ended up having almost as much fun doing this movie as I do doing stand-up. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had and it was great.

There’s some dates you have to do when you have to keep your set light. Like in a comedy club, I can seem pretty angry but I have to keep it light enough so people can laugh. It’s the same thing while on a movie set, especially during a comedy. You can’t be screaming and yelling, you have to figure out how to keep it funny. It’s a really cool balance but I had more fun doing this movie than anything, there are like over 130 five-star reviews for it now.

RD: Congratulations on that.

CT: Thanks.

RD: After the show at the Comedy Connection on Jan 25, what are your plans? I know you have a run of shows, but do you have anything else in the works?

CT: There’s a series that Billy Gardell (who is also in Special Unit) and I are doing called “Devil’s Music.” It’s about rock ‘n’ roll and we’re shooting a pilot for it in February. My next show is called “Stories I Shouldn’t Tell” which will probably get my family to sue me, so I’m also working on that.

Comedy Connection, Jan 25 tickets: www-ricomedyconnection-com.seatengine.com/shows/70918

Special Unit trailer: youtube.com/watch?v=XSTdJ1UlzTM

Web site: christophertitus.com




Funny Please, Cause We All Need a Laugh

If there’s one thing we can say about 2017 it is this: We are going to need a laugh. A new group on the scene is hoping to do just that. Funny Please, based out of New Bedford, Massachusetts, is brand new to the sketch comedy scene, but with a troupe made up of stand-up comedians, they are no strangers to making audiences laugh! This Friday, January 13, the sketch comedy group will bring their brand of comedy to Firehouse 13. The comedy troupe consists of Massachusetts residents Tegan Flanders, Stephan Rose, Rhodes Pierre, James Martin, Jason Fumo, Derrick Cabral, and Stephen Norton, each one with a diverse resume.

This past summer the group formed thanks to group member Tegan Flanders needing to fill 45 minutes of comedy at the Maderas Wine Festival. Rather than steal the spotlight for himself, he called on two of his friends, Rhodes Pierre and Stephan Rose, to develop sketch comedy for the event. Since then the group has expanded to include Martin, Fumo, Cabral and Norton. They also have  expanded to the small screen with a public access show that already has two episodes under its belt. When asked to explain what people can expect at a Funny Please show, Pierre described their brand of comedy as “quirky fun. We tailor it to the venue and event. The Firehouse is the ‘I have a dream’ show.” Typically their shows run two hours, and although they can offer family-friendly entertainment, the show on the 13th is not intended to be family-friendly. 

The show at the Firehouse is their first Rhode Island appearance; however, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of this group in the future.  

Funny Please airs on Cox Channel 13, or 32 on Verizon on Mondays at 10:30pm. If you want to catch this act live, head down to Firehouse 13, 41 Central St, PVD on Jan 13 at 8pm.  




Carol Burnett Brings Laughter to Providence

Life Achievement Award Portrait - Carol BurnettI choose my words carefully.  As an educator, I recognize their worth with my students, as a mom I know they will be repeated and as a writer I acknowledge their effect. So when I found myself in PPAC’s beautiful house waiting for Carol Burnett to take the stage one word came to mind, and I knew I would run with it. Trailblazer. Sure there are other, equally worthy words — hilarious, clever, legend — that equally describe this comedienne, but the one that rings truest for me is trailblazer.

The world of comedy is not an easy one for women; however, growing up I didn’t realize this because I grew up watching Carol Burnett. From her sketch comedy to Annie, I always knew that women are funny. I knew that I too wanted to make people laugh (and play Miss Hannigan one day!).  Carol Burnett paved the way for comediennes like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolf.

The evening opens with clips to set the mood. This isn’t any show after all, it’s a question and answer show. And I have to take pause here and applaud the fantastic PPAC ushers who tirelessly bounced throughout the theater to hand the microphones over to audience members. Carol, as she tells the audience to call her, opens with a tribute to the great Harvey Korman. Once the questions are open, a true Rhode Island question was posed, “Would you ever run for president?” Carol laughed it off noting that she may move to Vancouver.

The audience was eclectic — from the 9-year-old in the second row who wanted to take Carol out to dinner to the self-proclaimed “aging baby boomers,” parents of baby boomers and everyone in between — including a young woman who drove from Canada and has CB tattooed on her wrist! It says something when a performer can attract that kind of variety in their audience, and completely sell out. And not to mention a night flying solo without a script. How utterly terrifying! After all, who knows what an audience member will come up with? You would never know that by watching this consummate professional. I am convinced that Providence could have sold out two nights.

Burnett’s stories range from working with animals onstage, touting the talents of everyone around her, and how she started in the business. It is known that Burnett has a huge affection for education, so it was no surprise when she spoke of her first time on stage in a college production. She noted that she got a positive response from the audience. “Thank goodness they laughed.”  Thank goodness indeed!

As I looked around the packed house I thought that there aren’t too many people who can sell out a venue for a night that has no script.  The audience dictates what happens, making each night unique. And if you’re fortunate enough to live in a city that has more than one scheduled show (I’m looking at you San Francisco and NYC!) you won’t be disappointed if you buy tickets for both nights!

Overall, Carol Burnett An Evening of Laughter and Reflection was an absolute joy, and an honor to witness. I enjoyed the stories so much that I can’t wait to read more about them when Burnett’s newest venture, her fourth book, In Such Good Company comes out this fall!




Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me! Comes to PPAC

SLIDE

You don’t have to be a news aficionado to appreciate National Public Radio’s Chicago-based “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” but the weekly comedy series, taped live every week for Saturday broadcast, is ostensibly a “news quiz.” One might be forgiven for forgetting the topical nature of the show, however, since WWDTM is fast-paced, funny and filled with a rotating cast of guests and panelists that make an hour seem like a few minutes. Similar in style to another long-running NPR gem, “Says You,” WWDTM is sardonically educational, tickling the funny bone while infiltrating our senses with knowledge. Whether it is call-in contestants or notable humorists such as Paula Poundstone giving the answers, it never seems to matter if anyone actually wins or loses (unless you’re vying for the opportunity to have the gold-throated Carl Kasell record your answering machine message). Quick wit and opportunities for socio-political satire are the order of the day and regular host Peter Sagal ties the proceedings together with a practiced ease that has made him one of the most beloved NPR personalities of the last two decades.

The immediately affable Sagal has a long career in show business as a playwright, actor, journalist and screenwriter. He is ignominiously famous as both the co-writer of the sequel to Dirty Dancing and as an extra in a Michael Jackson video, two topics of which he appears to be simultaneously proud and embarrassed. It is his steady gig as host of WWDTM, however, that has gained him the most notoriety and, although there are often stand-in hosts, it is Sagal’s presence that makes the show both lighthearted and irreverent. He is not afraid to tease his base, the liberal NPR audience, while conducting business. While interviewing the US Labor Secretary on a recent episode, Sagal quipped “Despite President Obama’s best efforts, this is still a capitalist country,” and in response to Secretary Perez’s quip that he once brought too many items into an express checkout lane, Sagal deadpanned, “I don’t know if you’ve ever been on NPR before, but right now 40,000 people are writing to us in anger.”

With “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” coming live to PPAC on May 12, Motif took the opportunity to interview Peter Sagal about his many endeavors, his feelings about Providence and, of course, the Michael Jackson incident.

Terry Shea: I know you went to Harvard, so you’re not unfamiliar with New England, but have you been to Providence before?

Peter Sagal: Yes! I have been to Providence, but it was so long ago I have to honestly say I don’t remember too much. Has it gotten any better?

TS: Well, actually yes. Have you been there since the ’90s?

PS: Ah, yes, it would have been the ’90s since I was last there. The reason I know Providence, actually, is that I applied to (Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist) Paula Vogel’s graduate drama writing course at Brown and was accepted, which was one of the most flattering things that has ever happened to me. I didn’t go, but I regret that.

This comment sparked a long discussion between Sagal and me about theater in general and theater in Rhode Island, specifically. Sagal noted that he has been fortunate enough to live and work in some of the great theater cities in the country and was happy to hear about the plethora of new companies that have formed in Rhode Island since his short time here. He questioned whether the talent pool gets diluted in such a small state and went on to say that as long as the audiences are there, then good theater will always thrive.

TS: That being said, your last play was written almost 10 years ago. Do you have any plans for more scripts?

PS: You know, I love it (playwriting), but it’s been a while. I love it, yet I never do it.  It’s kind of like the old gunslinger movies where they call the aging shootist back into town and he’s not sure if he can hack it anymore. I like to say it’s like that Mel Brooks movie Blazing Saddles – I’m Gene Wilder without the alcoholism. Seriously, though, I couldn’t have imagined writing back then what people are doing now, the young writers. I went to see the play The Flick (Annie Baker, Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 2014) and there were all of these tiny things going on that I missed because I’m an old man. But, I would love to write another play. There is no other experience like sitting in back of a theater watching one of my plays being performed.

TS: So, this tour of “Wait Wait” brings you to the Providence Performing Arts Center. Do you know or remember that venue from your time here?

PS: No, I don’t know it! Never been, tell me about it.

TS: It’s a beautiful old theater, lots of detail, balconies. Goes back to the 1920s and has been renovated a few times. Usually, it hosts touring Broadway productions and the occasional classic rock act.

PS: Great! We’ve actually played in a lot of theaters like that. It’s interesting, because back in the day if you wanted to be a successful big city, you built a theater. And many of those fine old theaters, the beautiful ones, have been in these cities that, at some point, experience significant economic decline. For instance, one of the most beautiful houses we ever played in was located in Akron, Ohio. Waterbury, Connecticut, is another one that has a great old theater. So there are all these beautiful small to mid-sized theaters around the country that have just always been around. But, in cities that didn’t necessarily have that cycle of decline/resurgence, in our home base of Chicago, for example, they tore down a lot of the old theaters to make parking lots. Eh, no one’s going to theater, but people have to park! Now, just judging by the plaques on walls when we go backstage in some of these places, back in the ’80s or ’90s or later, these cities started renovating these old theaters once they had a little money again.

TS: You must see a lot out on the road. Any favorite cities or experiences while touring the show?

PS: They are all wonderful and I can justify it! The great thing about home (Chicago) is I am at home and I can sleep in my own bed, use my home office, see my kids. Our home theater (the Chase Bank Auditorium) is really perfect for what we do – it’s only 400 seats and as I like to say, it has everything but charm. For our type of show, and this is a comedy show, we really rely on that instant response; we rely on that audience feedback. Are they antsy?  Do we need to move this along? We can see what’s working and if you have to give them more of that. You don’t get that at 3,000 seat houses. But, that size house is also wonderful. You really have to be like an old school rock ‘n’ roll band. You adjust to whatever place you’re playing. But, that being said, when we go to another town to play, the people are there to see us, and we’ve built up all this goodwill in advance. We would have to be really bad to annoy them! And, it’s a great experience to walk out onto a stage and be greeted by 3,000 people. I highly recommend it.

TS: One of the joys of listening (or watching) “Wait Wait” is the variety of guest panelists. Can you tell us who will be joining you in Providence and also, who are some of your favorites to work with?

PS: Really, I’m happy with whoever. I know it’s a pat answer, but I’m always happy when I look to my left and see these amazing people and I just know it will be a great time. I don’t know exactly who will be with us in Providence. I mean, I do, it’s written down on a wall back in the office, but I can’t recall at the moment. I love them all, whoever it turns out to be.

TS: Ok, since this is an NPR show, I have to ask: What are your feelings on pledge drives?

PS: I’m lucky in that part that I don’t have to manage the mic during pledge drives. Usually it’s done as part of a pretaped thing. But, that being said, the public radio model is ridiculously fair. You know, every once in a while we pass the hat and you know exactly what you’re paying for. I can’t imagine any commercial endeavor doing that. Imagine taking the Prius out for a test drive and liking it and the dealer saying, well, there you go, it’s yours, and if you feel like it … give us some money … if not, that’s ok we’ll let you keep it! But, we’d love some money so that we can make more Priuses. Actually, many other businesses are beginning to adopt that model with online fundraising and so forth for their product. It’s like … I’m a Red Sox fan and like all sports fans I was leeching off the coverage of the Boston Globe for a long time, including a particular writer, Peter Abraham, but I never paid for it. You can get it for free! I then, finally, I said, “What am I doing? Pete Abraham has to get paid! I should pay for this!”

TS: I know we’re running out of time, so I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the question of you being an extra in a Michael Jackson video.

PS: Right! Well, it’s one of those things that always comes up, whether it actually means anything or not. The story goes: An old LA friend asked if I’d like a chance to be an extra for MJ and I immediately said, “Yes, because I know this is a story I will be telling for the next 50 years, no matter what happens.” So, most people seem to think it was for “Thriller”, but it wasn’t. Those people were dancers, not extras. This was actually for the marketplace scene in the “Remember The Time” video (1991). I was a snake charmer, I got all in costume and I was on the set, I got paid $95 and I was eventually not even used. But, I got to meet Michael. I said, “Nice to meet you,” and he said, “Nice to meet you,” and that was really it. So, in my obituary I expect the top line to be, “He worked with Michael Jackson and wrote Dirty Dancing 2 even though he didn’t mean to.”

Like the show he hosts, Peter Sagal emphasizes the quality of his experiences over their quantity. He has run marathons, appeared in TV and film, been in print numerous times and is comfortable on either end of an interview. For him, it seems fitting to crib a description from the aforementioned NPR show “Says You” when it comes to describing his life and his experiences – it’s not important to know the answers … it’s important to like the answers.

NPR’s comedic quiz show “Wait, Wait. . . Don’t Tell Me!” comes to the Providence Performing Arts Center on May 12 at 7:30pm. Tickets are available at the PPAC box office, 220 Weybosset St, by calling 421-2787, or online at ppacri.org.

 




Cooler Warmer Comic by Adam Slater

cw




Rhode Island: We Are Not Amused

airship-over-providence-IMGP8725Fresh off the successful and widely acclaimed introduction of a new logo and slogan, “Size Doesn’t Matter,” the state tourism agency announced plans to convert Rhode Island into a theme park.

“Once we discovered that the Rhode Island economy was so far in the tank that we couldn’t afford electricity, we decided to make the best of it and embrace a Steampunk motif,” Governor Gina Raimondo said in announcing the development. “We’ll be creating a unique public-private partnership, XXXVIII Studios, to reimagine the Victorian Era into the modern world in ways that make absolutely no rational sense, which is what Steampunk is all about.”

She added, “It will be bigger than Disneyworld, and I mean that literally. After all, they’ve only got 43 square miles.”

Public transit will be shifted away from diesel-powered, exhaust-spewing buses to coal-fired streetcars, according to the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, creating jobs as each carriage will require a fireman in addition to a driver. “Streetcar service has been on our drawing boards for years,” an agency spokesman said, “and we are thrilled to make riding RIPTA a featured part of the tourist experience.”

Much of the economic boost is expected from a perpetual state of construction, but, once the streetcar tracks are laid, a spokesman from the Department of Transportation projected substantial savings because it will no longer be necessary to conduct road maintenance or fill potholes.

The state is already well served by interstate rail lines, but visitors looking for more upscale travel accommodations will have the opportunity from a convenient, centrally located mooring at the 428-foot “Superman Building” on Kennedy Plaza to make use of connections to Boston and New York City via twice-daily Fung Wah luxury dirigible flights.

The iconic Waterfire art installation that already draws thousands of visitors into Downcity Providence to walk along the river will modernize to coal instead of wood. According to creator Barnaby Evans, dense black smoke will cause attendees to choke and cover them with soot, evoking the city in its Gilded Age glory. “We’re trying to get the necessary permits to dump raw sewage into Waterplace Park for 19th Century verisimilitude,” Evans said.

Hasbro Children’s Hospital was reported to be excited to be part of the project and is already raising money to open new units for diphtheria and whooping cough patients. “This expansion was already on our radar with the rise of the anti-vaccination movement,” a spokesman said. “We couldn’t really envision a better integration with public policy to treat conditions that should have been wiped out almost a century ago, and we’re exploring the untapped revenue potential of charging admission for public displays of malnourished, crippled children” — possibly in a collaborative endeavor with the Providence Children’s Museum, who said they had not previously considered exhibiting actual children.

Arts organizations are trying to play their respective strengths. The Steel Yard and Big Nazo are reported to be jointly working out the technical difficulties making a series of giant iron puppets. AS220 is considering encouraging acoustic music performances. RISD has been asked to prepare the official guidebooks, although they still have not come to terms as the designers want to use the Papyrus font for a more distinguished look and the tourism agency prefers the Comic Sans font for a more fun and playful look.

Federal Hill, believed to harbor the most dense collection of restauranteurs in the world, plans to offer Victorian culinary delights ranging from quick service take-away gruel all the way up to lavish five-star gruel. Dunkin Donuts expects to offer drive-through gruel. Competitor Starbucks is rumored to have a parallel brand in the early stages, with a menu undisclosed at this time, under the name “Queequegs.”

Several of the state’s trade labor unions expressed concerns about the effects of a return to Victorian standards, but were reassured by the governor that there would be a relatively generous minimum wage of $5 per day and their membership would be expanded by lowering the minimum age for full-time employment to six years old. Besides, she told them, someone needs to mine the coal.

Although the governor said she still wants to take a “wait and see approach” to legalizing recreational use of marijuana, she conceded that it would be difficult to attract Victorian-oriented tourists without at least tolerating cocaine, opium and laudanum.

Neighboring states have tried similar theme parks with varying results, including the world-renowned Connecticut “Gambling Land” and the somewhat less successful Massachusetts “Traffic Jam Land.”

Admission fees for the theme park will be collected by a network of cameras mounted on toll gantries, recording the car registration plates of each visitor as they move around the state. The system was already planned to prevent residents from leaving Rhode Island without first obtaining an exit visa, but can easily be expanded beyond its original purposes.

The governor concluded, “This state needs nothing less than a Cultural Revolution.”