Hilariously nasty women return in tribute to guilt, embarrassment

Maureen (Julie Klein, left) and Buffy (Katy Psenicka) intake alcohol and output insults in a sketch from Shadowbox Live’s Guilty Pleasures. (Photos by Buzz Crisafulli)

By Richard Ades

Guilty Pleasures, Shadowbox Live’s latest theme show, allows me to enjoy one of my own: insult comedy. It’s the reason I look forward to every return visit by Maureen and Buffy, the soused and acid-tongued society matrons played by Julie Klein and Katy Psenicka.

The two pals are as mean-spirited as ever in their latest escapade, The Fundraising Ball, which has them attending a political function and surreptitiously throwing barbed comments at their fellow guests. Example: Noticing a passing woman’s extensive surgical enhancement, one muses, “If those tits get any higher, they’d be shoulders.”

Both characters are as memorable as their one-liners, but for different reasons: Psenicka’s Buffy for her cackling laugh and Klein’s Maureen for the palpable air of gloom that surrounds her and helps to explain her addiction to wine and all-around nastiness.

Though the theme show lives up to its name at times like this, it could just as easily be called Embarrassing Situations. The first skit, Dream Catcher, sets the tone when Harold (Jimmy Mak) brings girlfriend Louise (Leah Haviland) back to his place and reluctantly introduces her to Aquaman and other fantastical beings who’ve taken up residence there. Louise, who majored in dream interpretation at Antioch University, quickly recognizes them as symbols of Harold’s scarred psyche. The skit is as funny as it is clever.

Other embarrassment-riddled skits (listed in descending order of effectiveness):

Bad Siri: Jim (Mak) is chagrined when the titular virtual assistant picks an inopportune moment to reveal his love of sappy movies and his unexpressed desire for a female acquaintance.

Browser History: Friends Gina and Keri (Klein and Psenicka) find evidence that Gina’s roommate (Tom Cardinal) has a creepy fixation on a certain fictional pony. You’ll see the punchline galloping toward you from a mile away.

Guilty Pleasures: The show’s final skit has a roomful of people admitting their secret vices, most of which are too mild to be really embarrassing, much less funny.

Jimmy Mak and Amy Lay in the sketch Loving Life

Additional skits include the TV spoof Perspectives, which is amusing thanks to David Whitehouse’s robust impersonation of Dr. Phil. Maybe it’s a matter of taste, but I got fewer laughs out of either the vaudeville routine Houdini Escapes Death or the vaudeville-like Loving Life, though the latter does have a nifty punchline.

As befits the show’s theme, the musical numbers include Haviland’s sexy rendition of the All-American Rejects’ Dirty Little Secret. Starting things off on the right foot, Stephanie Shull expertly sings and raps her way through Mercy, while Nikki Fagin ends things on an unrepentant note with Pink’s So What.

In between are a slew of highlights. They include the novelty number Coin-Operated Boy, the joyful Hollywood Nights and the entertaining Canned Heat, sung by Ashley Pearce, Klein and Lay, respectively.

Guilty Pleasures continues through June 3 at Shadowbox Live, 503 S. Front St., Columbus. Show times are 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Running time: 1 hours, 55 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $20-$40. 614-416-7625 or shadowboxlive.org.

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Ear pod plays starring role in ‘Best of Shadowbox 2016’

Amy Lay holds forth in Ex’s and Oh’s, one of the cover songs featured in Best of Shadowbox 2016 (photo by Jeffery Crisafulli)
Amy Lay holds forth in Ex’s and Oh’s, one of the cover songs featured in Best of Shadowbox 2016 (photo by Jeffery Crisafulli)

By Richard Ades

When I head to Indiana for my high school reunion in a few weeks, I can only hope it will be half as much fun as another reunion of sorts I attended recently: the annual Best of Shadowbox show.

Just as reunions give you the chance to get reacquainted with old friends, Best of Shadowbox gives you the chance to get reacquainted with skits you’ve seen over the past year. In most cases, it’s a pleasure to see them again, especially since the writers and cast members often find ways to improve them in reaction to audience response.

One skit that didn’t need much improving is The Ear Pod, featuring Tom Cardinal as a husband who hates to miss a big football game to attend a counseling session with his wife (Julie Klein). Trying to have it both ways, he secretly listens to the game via an ear pod while his wife vents about all that’s wrong with their relationship. The misunderstandings multiply hilariously as Cardinal’s enthusiastic reactions to the game are misinterpreted by his angry spouse and the diplomatic counselor (Michelle Daniels).

At least a couple of skits seem more entertaining this time around.

Sexy Nurse imagines what would happen if hospital employees really dressed the way they do in our pornographic fantasies. It centers on a patient (Robbie Nance) who’s excited when his nurse (Amy Lay) shows up in a barely there uniform. It’s still not a laugh riot, but it’s good, raunchy fun.

Also slightly improved—though it was pretty funny to begin with—is Job App. It’s about what happens when a job applicant (Nance) has a social-media history that contradicts everything he says about himself. Klein is admirably restrained as the dubious interviewer, allowing the momentum to build toward the show’s strongest punchline.

Romeo (Robbie Nance) and Juliet (Amy Lay) discover they share singular tastes in 50 Shades of Romeo (photo by Jeffery Crisafulli)
Romeo (Robbie Nance) and Juliet (Amy Lay) discover they share singular tastes in 50 Shades of Romeo (photo by Jeffery Crisafulli)

On the other hand, 50 Shades of Romeo seems less amusing on second viewing. Merging Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with E.L. James’s kinky best-seller is a clever idea, but much of the humor consists of adding “-eth” to sundry words (including F-bombs) to make them sound Elizabethan. As if to make up for the labored jokes, Lay slaps on an extra layer of ditsiness as the S&M-prone Juliet, but it doesn’t help.

Among the skits I missed the first time around, the funniest is Happy Haunting, in which two fey ghosts (Jimmy Mak and Brandon Anderson) try to protect their unaware roommate (Leah Haviland) from her boorish date (Nance). The weakest is Camping Without a Net, in which a group of millennials are terrified to learn they’ve lost their Internet connection. The skit itself seems lost, generating more than one “huh?” moment as it meanders toward an unsatisfying ending.

But there’s nothing unsatisfying about the show’s musical numbers, which mix great singing with great musicianship on the part of the house band. The highlights (and their lead singers) include Life in the Fast Lane (Klein), Walk on the Ocean (Cardinal) and Sexual Healing (Noelle Grandison and Guillermo Jemmott).

Even more fun is the number that ends Act 1, Elle King’s Ex’s and Oh’s, sung by a deliciously attired Lay, Haviland, Ashley Pearce, Chyna Cheaney and Katy Psenicka. And most fun of all is the final song, Meat Loaf’s Paradise by the Dashboard Light, featuring a back-and-forth duet by Klein and Lukas Tomasacci. Amusing interplay among the backup singers is an added bonus in a number that I wouldn’t mind getting reacquainted with a few more times.

Best of Shadowbox 2016 continues through Sept. 3 at Shadowbox Live, 503 S. Front St., Columbus. Show times are 7:30 and 10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday (no 10:30 performances July 22 or 29). Running time: 2 hours (including intermission). Tickets are $20-$40. 614-416-7625 or shadowboxlive.org.