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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Virtual ‘COVID Night Live’ loaded with humor

Critic At Large

St. Norbert College Theatre Studies

Molly Kubica and Joseph Fischer portray strangers who meet in a restaurant in “Sure Thing” as part of “COVID Night Live.” (Warren Gerds screenshot)

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – Sometimes, the joke is on the coronavirus COVID-19.

Despite the pandemic, St. Norbert College Theatre Studies has a virtual show specifically designed as comedy relief.

The title of “COVID Night Live” borrows from TV’s “Saturday Night Live,” though the recorded show premiered Friday. Additional showings are at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7, 13 and 14. Viewing is free, with donations accepted. Info: snc.edu/tickets/.

Six sketches are in the production. They are variations on styles and cleverness.

Some sketches are performed with masks – a drawback for enunciation.

Some are split-screen performances.

All include mood-setting music, and one is laced with music and sound effects.

Aural and visual clarity may not be crystalline, but there are heady laughs to be had in the sketches that are new to this region in the virtual format.

Four sketches are directed by students, and two are directed by Stephen Rupsch of the faculty.

And there are original “commercials.”

In chronological order, the production:

+ “So Tell Me About This Guy”

Creative: Playright – Dolores Whiskeyman; director – Katy Verheyden; designer – April Beiswenger; stage manager – Grace Liska-Verdu

Cast

Marla – Marissa Helchen

Angie – Maddie Glosny

Best friends are chatting about the love life of one. Sentences start like, “He’s a… you know…,” and trail off. Usually there is an inuendo left hanging in the audience’s mind. The inuendoes add up, and the accumulation is funny.

The performances ride along on a tide of keen facial and verbal expressiveness – heighten by being done without masks.

+ “Game Theory”

Creative: playwright – Peter Sagal; director – Stephen Rupsch; designer – Maddy Brisbane; stage manager – Alonzo Torres

Cast

Paul – Janie Janczakowski

Mark – Sarah Swan

This is a sendup of corporate game-playing exercises. The piece brims with smartness, and the satire singes corporate-talk and regimentation.

The performances, done in masks, burrow into head-game byplay.

Although the characters have male names, what happens in the scene works for either gender.

+++

A pause here for the three commercials.

Commercials

They are supervised by Erin Hunsader, designed by Micaela Rozmarenoski, with video edited by Maddy Kuehl.

+ “Entenmann’s Crumb Cake” written and performed by Molly Kubica.

Feeling bummed? Pig out on calorie-loaded guilty pleasure. That’s the gist. A reference to the crumb cake even shows up later in one of the sketches.

+ “Corporate Training Gone Bad” written by Erin Hunsader and Spencer Catalano. Cast: Janie Janczakowski, Garret Fritz, David Arendt.

The humor is sometimes visual, like a “trust fall” in which the trustee hits the floor.

+ “Kettle of Fish” written by Erin Hunsader, Kassidy Ashbeck and Maddy Glosny. Cast: Maddy Kuehl, Garret Fritz, Will Fischer, David Arendt.

This is a send up of dating sites and mediocre Midwest men. The pitch is, “If you like men and you like fish, check out Kettle of Fish,” and shown are guys and their BFF, fish.

+++

+ “Case of the Careless Victim”

Creative: Playwright Agatha Christie, originally adapted for the Mutual Radio Show; director – Jordan Schuman; designer – April Beiswenger; foley artist – Garret Fritz; stage manager – Rebecca Jacques

Cast

Hercule Poirot – Spencer Catalano

Miss Abigail Fletcher – Abby Russel

Detective Stevens – Joseph Fischer

Parrish/Officer Brady – Paris Riggle

Clerk/Elevator Man/ Johnny/Laura Parrish/Pilot – Haley Schmidt

This is the shakiest of the sketches because of split-screen dialogue and players wearing masks – which muffle their speech – even though it doesn’t seem they have to.

Originally a radio play, this one doesn’t translate well into the split-screen visuals.

What works are the sound effects and the comic stuffiness of Agatha Christie’s supersleuth Hercule Poirot, who one character calls “Mr. Poor Hoe.” The humor is how Hercule Poirot can intuit everything by the thinnest of clues.  

+ “Sure Thing”

Creative: Playwright – David Ives; director: Kassidy Ashbeck; designer – Micaela Rozmarenoski; stage manager – Rebecca Jacques

Cast:

Bill – Joseph Fischer

Betty – Molly Kubica

I laughed out loud at this one. At a restaurant table, a woman is reading a book. Up walks a man and says, “Is this seat taken?” What follows is an answer and byplay between the two that are politically or socially incorrect until the conversation can continue so the two click. Wrong answer – Bing! – the character rings a bell that’s the kind used at service desks.

In masks, the players hit a rhythm with a long train of witty, knowing, telling humor that’s a funny way to start a romance.

+ “Hey Stranger”

Creative: Playwright­ – Steph Del Rosso; director – Will Fischer; designer – April Beiswenger; stage manager – Maddy Brisbane

Cast

Eve – Daphne Johnson

Gideon – Spencer Catalano

Zoe – Sunnie Grahn

Wow, is there the head stuff in this one. The humor slips in from the attic.

The premise is two people are catching up with each other in Zoom-like manner. But one has an ulterior motive that takes the other by surprise. And then along comes a 14-year-old philosophy whiz (twisted kind).

What happens is a well-played (with no masks) kind of three-way tennis match with a heavy ball, with the whiz serving mental scorchers.

+ “Rules of Comedy”

Creative: Playwright – Patricia Cotter; director – Stephen Rupsch; designer – Micaela Rozmarenoski; stage manager – Alonzo Torres

Guy – David Arendt

Caroline – Catherine Grey

The deal is a woman is taking virtual lessons to become a stand-up comedian. That description sounds like it could be the basics of what she is trying to achieve: Setup, story,  twist and punchline.

One twist in “Rules of Comedy” is her teacher says she isn’t funny when he isn’t that good at stand-up himself.

There’s a lot of headiness in this sketch, too. Performing without masks allows the nimble players to present the subtleties surrounding one of the key lines: “I think real life is why jokes exist.”

No kidding: Real life is why “COVID Night Live” exists.

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