Improvisation for improv’s sake is all well and good, but sometimes the compulsion to immortalize a scenario or character in scripted form becomes overwhelming. Go Comedy! gives in to the pressure with its newest original sketch comedy show, Ferndale 2-4-8, written by its ensemble cast and by director Bryan Lark. Premiering in concert with the original comedy Space Maids, one sketch comedy and one short play showcase the familiar and the fantastical in different formats, both with evident skill.
As suggested by its title, Ferndale 2-4-8 incorporates a send-up of the locally filmed (and quite possibly doomed) network series Detroit 1-8-7. Scenes transplanting the grizzled cop-show characters to comparatively tame Ferndale make up the loose framework, picking out and magnifying the most basic story arcs in a way that should translate to the uninitiated and the die-hard fan alike. However, the show eagerly abandons the strictures of this premise to deliver a barrage of sketches, as fast-moving and intricately packed as a Second City revue, threaded together by Michigan themes. Combining parody, original songs, marvelous single-joke blackout sketches, and deeper comic scenes, this one-hour production is a whirlwind tour of the cherished traditions, prides, and embarrassments of the mitten state.
Go resident cast members Lauren Bickers, Joe Hingelberg, Tim Kay, Louie Krause, Suzie Jacokes, and Matt Naas have the feel of a true ensemble and a firm grasp of the subject matter. Statewide touchstones like the holy game of euchre and the precious ten-cent bottle deposit are interspersed with more specific regional fare, like the fabulousness of Ferndale, but most are underscored by an insider/outsider dichotomy. There’s an enduring sense of we-kid-because-we-love, but defensiveness also lurks behind the comedy, the conceit that by virtue of living in metro Detroit, we’re permitted — and uniquely positioned — to viciously skewer what’s ours. Much of the show revisits previously trod ground; lamenting the woes of the Michigan budget and its effect on Detroit schools and the eviscerated film incentive program isn’t new, but the perspective and characterizations nevertheless feel fresh and distinctive. In this regard, Jacokes deserves special mention for giving new life to the trope of urban police attitudes misplaced in the suburbs, even earning repeated laughs from the same joke.
Ferndale is followed on Thursdays by Space Maids, also written by its ensemble cast and by director Pj Jacokes. The plot follows a pair of cleaning women (Cee’Ann Yates and Cara Trautman) as their task of scrubbing down a retired space shuttle goes awry, with a stowaway of sorts (Carrie Lynn Hall) and the ship’s near-sentient onboard computer (voiced by Andrew Seiler) thrown into the mix. Yates is affable as the erstwhile captain trying to keep up with the responsibility thrust upon her, Trautman is effectively single-minded as a wide-eyed aspiring Bridezilla, and Seiler’s exceptionally timed responses are perfectly pleasant yet unfeeling; however, the standout performance of the show is Hall’s, a lovelorn loser as hilarious silent as she is speaking. Fun character work and largely excellent writing are sometimes derailed by pacing that stalls out, but the blend of guest star–heavy multimedia content, sparse-yet-effective design elements, and conclusion straight out of left field buoy the one-act show through to the closing credits.
As different in structure and scope as they are in story, these two new productions both demonstrate Go’s continued development with respect to scripted work of all stripes. Ferndale 2-4-8 plays both Thursday and Friday nights at 8PM, and Space Maids occupies the 9PM time slot on Thursdays only; both run through May. (Go Comedy!’s Thursday evenings of not exclusively improv, at which a viewer can see all three shows for the price of one, are once again concluded with a nightcap of improvisation in the old standby Flight 1977 at 10PM.) Separately and together, these productions should have broad appeal to viewers in the mood for big, laugh-out-loud comedy.