Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


Planet Ant Theatre's improvisational and theatrical worlds collide most visibly in biannual original plays earmarked as prizes for the winning teams of its Summer Colony Fest and Winter Colony Fest tournaments. As directed by Mike McGettigan, the current production of 3 Guys, 1 Jar, written by and starring the men of A.R.M., looks fondly on a world of shrugging listlessness and heroic ineptitude as it hilariously punishes people who try.

In the world of the play, the Guys were all laid off some months ago and are resigned to bowling and drinking the days away. Marv (Marv Anderson) provides the impetus for the plot, as some meager spark within inspires him to do something worthwhile with his time and energy. As it happens, a huge, empty plastic jar right in their lane beckons for donations to help a kid dying of nonspecific cancer, and the men have found their cause. McGettigan seems an especially apt fit for the troupe, as the ensuing madcap campaign to raise $28,000 and cure the boy benefits constantly from his signature: montages, insanely tangential conversations, and unbridled absurdity abound. Undoubtedly, the one-act show has very rough edges, but every misstep is countered by moments of fresh, startling humor.

Crudely monikered, pathos-dripping The Cancer Kid is played by Andy Wotta; each actor portrays at least two ancillary characters in addition to his main role as a heightened version of himself. The fellas' lame ideas that go nowhere funnel into a bad idea that sort of works out, which leads to a colossally poor idea that gets the guys arrested. Their journey — fleshed out by innovative and comic rear projection and sound cues by Dyan Bailey and Joe Becker, which ground the progression of scenes — isn't about results; rather, it's about characters normal and skewed, and the comic opportunity in both the mundane and the overblown. The script is also generous in making jokes at its own expense, commenting liberally on the Clark Kent/Superman limitations of having one actor play dual roles in the same scene. The self-awareness of the production and the low-key characterization of the main trio help buffer against potential rough patches or blown cues, as the performers fall back on breezy improvisation that blends right in with this atmosphere of humdrum amusement.

The most dynamic of the three primary characters is Russ (Russ Woods), who gains a Ramboesque perspective after some time in the clink and spends most of the latter half of the show doing and saying riotously unpredictable things. Thwarted in their attempts to raise funds, the guys hit on the idea of appealing to a medical professional to help them, and the introduction of questionable Lady Cancer Doctor (also Woods) blows the narrative wide open. Here, the meandering story line that had hung on the fringes takes precedence and slows everything down in an overcomplicated climactic scene — the mechanics of the plot reveals require six characters, necessitating endless entrances and exits and relying too heavily on an otherwise clever and jokey thrown-voice tactic. Yet even here, the comedy doesn't dissipate; A.R.M. and McGettigan are careful throughout to pick up every thread that's laid down, creating setups that pay off far down the line in surprising callbacks.

Admittedly, bits and pieces of the play don't measure up to its best material; in particular, the character Marv's treatment of his unseen wife can be so incongruously severe as to interfere with the comedy of the setup. Moreover, many of the details of 3 Guys, 1 Jar have a forgettable quality, but that's not necessarily a detriment; the performers have wisely elected to showcase their character work and team dynamic, which is what got them to the Ant's late-night series in the first place. When all a viewer can remember is laughing hard and often, the show is doing something very right.


Post a Comment