Sexy skits remain funny through the final punchline

Brandon Anderson as Funk Daddy Love in a skit from Body Heat (Shadowbox Live photo)
Brandon Anderson as Funk Daddy Love in a skit from Body Heat (Shadowbox Live photo)

By Richard Ades

Are sex and romance the best antidotes for the post-holiday blahs? Shadowbox Live seems to think so, as it always starts out the new year with the theatrical equivalent of a roll in the hay. Accordingly, the new Body Heat theme show holds forth with nearly two hours’ worth of heavy-breathing skits and songs.

Is the show sponge-worthy, as Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes might ask? Yes, thanks to three laudable attributes: (1) Some of the skits are pretty clever. (2) Some of the songs are dynamite. And (3) Funk Daddy Love is back!

For me, the last attribute may be the most important. The singer, played with satirical relish by Brandon Anderson, specializes in songs that attempt to stimulate listeners’ libidos with the help of lyrics that are to subtlety what Donald Trump is to diplomacy.

In Funk Daddy’s current skit, Funk Your Brains Out, the singer promotes such sexually explicit hits as Blew Velvet. “Velvet is the name of my penis,” he helpfully explains. Obviously, you have to have a taste for raunchy humor to appreciate this sort of thing, and apparently I do. Funk Daddy Love cracks me up.

You know what else cracks me up? Skits that are funny right up until the ultimate punchline. If you’ve been to many Shadowbox theme shows, you know the troupe doesn’t always pull that particular rabbit out of the hat, but this time it usually succeeds.

A few skits even have final twists that are as surprising as they are amusing. One of the best is Win Her Back, in which a teacher (Nikki Fagin) wraps up a “Romance 101” course by instructing her male students on how to save their relationship when they inevitably screw up. Another is Promposal, a cute piece about a high-schooler (Jimmy Mak) who’s sure he’ll never land a date to the prom unless he spends big bucks on an extravagantly creative invitation.

Also boasting a twist of sorts, but funnier for what happens before it, is Pro Pickup. It features Tom Cardinal and Amy Lay as sports-style commentators describing the interpersonal action during Ladies Night at a popular meat market. Key characters include the hapless Trent (Jamie Barrow), the out-for-a-good-time Krista (Nikki Davis) and the late-arriving Bill “The Bullet” (Guillermo Jemmott), a former player who’s returning to the singles scene after being “released from his contract.”

In between the winners, there are the usual misfires. They include Office Romance, in which recurring character Johnson (Julie Klein) tries to find out what secret admirer sent her flowers. This one has a twist, too, but it’s as so-so as the rest of the piece.

As for the night’s final skit, Shake Your Whole, it could be described as DOA—that is, Depends on Alcohol. If you’ve had a few drinks, you’ll have a better chance of enjoying this latest confrontation between suburbanites Dick and Betsy Anderson (Mak and Katy Psenicka) and South Siders Puck Ducky and Misty Duck (David Whitehouse and Lay). Besides a few provocative variations on yoga positions, there’s not a lot going on.

Music-wise, the show gets off to an appropriate start with Do You Wanna Touch Me. It’s lustily sung by Fagin, who also handles the lead vocals on an even sexier later number, I Get Off. A sultrier kind of sexiness comes across in Strange Face of Love, sung by Klein with her usual consummate skill.

One of the biggest musical surprises—and not in a good way—is the Robert Palmer hit Addicted to Love. Lead vocalist Cardinal and the house band usually excel at cover songs, but their rendition this classic is, well, less than classic. Not helping is the decision to spoof the iconic Palmer video by having two of the robotic backup dancers played by men in drag. Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching a lot of Transparent lately, but this kind of humor is starting to seem passé.

Much funnier is Shadowbox’s take on the Lonely Island/Saturday Night Live music video I Just Had Sex. The rapped and sung lyrics are performed with nerdy awkwardness by Lay, Barrow, David Whitehouse and Joey Ahern.

Wrapping up both the first and second acts, Anderson sets aside his Funk Daddy Love character to deliver the lead vocals on Bruno Mars’s 24K Magic and James Brown’s Sex Machine. Both are great.

Body Heat continues through March 18 at Shadowbox Live, 503 S. Front St., Columbus. Show times are 7:30 and 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $20-$40. 614-416-7625 or shadowboxlive.org.

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Troupe, playwright take another shot at literary romance

Robyn Rae Stype as the title heroine and Jeff Horst as the mysterious Rochester in Jane Eyre: A Memory, a Fever, a Dream (photo by Matt Slaybaugh)
Robyn Rae Stype as the title heroine and Jeff Horst as the mysterious Rochester in Jane Eyre: A Memory, a Fever, a Dream (photo by Matt Slaybaugh)

By Richard Ades

Don’t boys ever read Jane Eyre? Playwright Daniel Elihu Kramer seems to assume it appeals only to girls in his new stage adaptation, Jane Eyre: A Memory, a Fever, a Dream.

Maybe, maybe not. I know I read it during the youthful years when I was addicted to the Victorian novels of Dickens and others.

But maybe Kramer is right that Charlotte Bronte’s gothic romance means the most to girls. If his onstage “interviewer” (Jeff Horst) were to ask what the book meant to me, I’d have trouble coming up with answers as personal as those of the female “readers” who show up throughout the play.

You probably remember Kramer from his earlier literary adaptation, Pride & Prejudice, which Available Light premiered in 2010. In both works, Kramer periodically interrupts the British tale with digressions that are meant to increase our understanding and appreciation. With P&P, they were explanations of the period’s mores and mindsets; with Jane Eyre, they’re faux interviews with various girls and women who formed a special bond with the fictional Jane.

Personally, I like the new approach better. It seems less like a series of professorial asides, and it occasionally offers interesting insights, such as how girls react to the heroine’s self-described physical plainness. Even so, I feel about Kramer’s Jane Eyre much like I felt about his Pride & Prejudice: It’s most engrossing when he focuses on the original story. Director Acacia Leigh Duncan and her cast do an admirable job throughout, but it’s during the scenes from the book that the production really shines.

Well, maybe “shines” isn’t the best word, because the most memorable moments benefit from Carrie Cox’s dark and moody lighting. It combines with Brian Steinmetz’s roughhewn set and Jordan Fehr’s atmospheric sound design to create an aura of mystery and dread.

Robyn Rae Stype stars as Jane, an orphan who survives a deprived childhood and goes to work as a governess in a house run by the secretive Rochester (Horst). Stype makes an appealing heroine, but her performance is strangely opaque. It’s not a grave failing—we know what she’s thinking thanks to the presence of the narrator (the always good Michelle Gilfillan Schroeder)—but it would be nice if she occasionally allowed Jane’s thought processes to be more apparent.

In contrast, Horst is unfailingly expressive as Rochester, making him the kind of charismatic figure who could win the lonely Jane’s heart without really trying. Elena M. Perantoni is equally emotive as the warm-hearted Mrs. Fairfax and other female characters.

Michelle Whited’s costumes are simple but effective. Except for Schroeder’s outfit, which is modern and rather unflattering, they manage to suggest mid-19th century fashions while coming off as basically timeless.

Pride & Prejudice was a popular production that Available Light has brought back more than once. Kramer’s take on Jane Eyre deserves to enjoy just as much success, and maybe even a bit more.

Available Light Theatre will present Jane Eyre: A Memory, a Fever, a Dream through June 8 in Studio One, Riffe Center, 77 S. High St. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, plus 8 p.m. June 6. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. Tickets are $20 in advance or “pay what you want” at the door. 614-558-7408 or avltheatre.com.