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When comedy attacks: FST presents 'Laughing Matters'

'Laughing Matters Vol. 5: Lock the Gates!' sources current events for a grab bag of humor.

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Like pearls, comedy is born from irritants. “Laughing Matters V: Lock the Gates!” offers proof. It’s a grab-bag of irritants, both local and global. These include mind-bending roundabouts, relentless developers and a certain Republican front-runner with bad hair. No shortage of comic material these days, is there?

The revue’s writers are Rebecca Hopkins, Adam Ratner, Stephan deGhelder, Steve Turrisi, Will Luera and Jim Prosser, who’s also the one-man band behind the piano. Darren Server is this year’s musical director. The mockery is mostly musical—think Capitol Steps or those old “Mad Magazine” song parodies. Nick Anastasia, Richie McCall, Ali Reed and William Selby comprise the high-energy cast.

Photo by Matthew Holler
Photo by Matthew Holler

Nationally, “a plague on both your houses” seems to be the underlying political philosophy. Trump is a fatuous blowhard, Hillary is a shrill, opportunistic shrew, and Jeb is basically wasting everybody’s time by following in his brother’s footsteps. They slice and dice a bunch of songs from “West Side Story” to unfold the immigrant crisis. “Everybody Ought to Have a Gun,” (to the tune of “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid”) targets the shills of the NRA—an ironic plug that plugs a talking head full of holes. “The New Fat Albert” reduces the new Bill Cosby to Jello. “Puttin’ on the Ritz” hilariously becomes “Putin is a Prick.” (I half expected Peter Boyle to crash on stage in his Frankenstein costume.) The satire scores some palpable hits—though distant targets are safer, after all. Vladimir Putin probably won’t show up and start knocking tables over.

Photo by Matthew Holler
Photo by Matthew Holler

Local targets are less safe. “Roundabout Returns” is a clever send-up of the circular thinking of local traffic planners to the tune of Jacques Brel’s “Carousel.” “We are the Homeless” paints equally unflattering portraits of the indigent and those who want them to disappear. (One wears a sign proclaiming: WILL CODE HTML FOR FOOD.) Traffic and the homeless problem are easy targets. But the satirists stick their necks out on “We Can’t Say No”—to the tune of “I Cain’t Say No” from “Oklahoma.” This edgy routine names names and places blame for Sarasota’s metastasizing development. (Michael Saunders and Jesse Biter are the named and blamed.) One anonymous gadfly cries out “Lock the gates!” (Stop development, in other words.) The lone voice for sanity is clearly crazy.

Director Richard Hopkins serves up a lightning-fast show. The songs and skits deliver a few swift karate chops—and quickly move on to the next target. This 21st century comedy swings to the tune of a 20th century soundtrack. With the exception of bits from The Beatles and Queen, the songs behind the snark have an old-school musical vibe. The creators mine “West Side Story,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “Camelot,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Oklahoma” and “Evita” for laughs. Choreographer Thomas Dewayne Barrett appropriately spins the cast around on the minuscule cabaret stage in a sly parody of mid-20th century musical routines—dance numbers that deliberately seem to be trying too hard. The performers are consistently funny—and nicely click as a hard-working ensemble.

It’s a fun evening—though I doubt the irritants behind it are going away any time soon. Something tells me there’ll be plenty of material for “Laughing Matters VI” when the post-apocalyptic time comes.


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