The Impending Moustache
nytheatre.com review by Robert Weinstein
March 28, 2008
As we were leaving the People's Improv Theatre ("The PIT") after having watched The Impending Moustache's new and unnamed sketch comedy show, my friend turned to me and asked, "Why do people like sketch comedy so much?" It was an odd question, one I had never seriously considered. The fact that she asked this question may not seem to bode well for the company about whom this review is written, but I don't think she meant it as an insult. She liked some of the performers very much and laughed several times during the show, and she wasn't alone. The audience responded to this smart and talented ensemble with a steady stream of cheers, laughter, and applause. Even during the show's less successful moments when the well of humor was running dry, audience response was never less than enthusiastic and we all seemed to leave smiling and satisfied.
A lot of this had to do with the energy and intelligence The Impending Moustache brings to the proceedings. On its website, Moustache bills itself as a "sneeze-up of Monty Python, Anne Bogart, CNN and Euripides" and describes its work as "meticulously written and epic in scope!" This new show makes good on the boast. It consists of six people performing six sketches as well as several interludes that play with the show's structure and space. The subjects of these sketches? Love, hate, death, betrayal, greed, lust, space, time, perception, patience, virtue, and what monks would talk about if they did stand-up. (Puns figure strongly.)
The opening sketch for example, begins with a couple at the end of a break-up, packing boxes and unloading their anger and disappointments on one another. Their bickering begins in typical fashion—these are mine, I'm taking these—and escalate into the realm of the absurd: "I'm taking your birthday!"; "I'm taking your children!"; "I'm taking your sense of community identity!" Another sketch takes place in Jesus's modern day basement where the betrayals and the denials come as a result of a game of Dungeons & Dragons [Jesus: Peter, you will deny me... (Jesus rolls a die and then looks at it.) Three times!] and the messiah dies not for our sins but for our eccentricities. And in my favorite sketch, a group of businessmen discuss a potentially disastrous market. Their fear of financial disaster reduces their conversation into a shouting match and transforms these high-powered brokers into vile, bile-spewing gorillas. They calm themselves when they realize the danger won't touch them, but it is too late: they've exposed their underbellies and the danger remains.
The interludes provide the company with the opportunity to play with the show's form and to transform the playing space. The show begins with such an interlude in which the actors outline various objects they could use in the course of the show: a table, a box, a barrel of furry animals. This conceit is carried out in the following interlude, when Katie Hartman walks out onto the stage, carrying a bag of corn chips and drops it onto the spot she thought was occupied by a mimed, imaginary table. After yelling at her castmates for moving the imaginary table, the entire cast argues until Gabe Pacheco restores order by grabbing an imaginary grandfather clock and rotating the hands backward, thus taking everyone—audience included—back to the time before the argument began. That he does it with a wink adds to the fun and lets the audience in on the joke.
Given these tools, I wanted to like the show more than I did. The humor is scatological and literate. The performers are enthusiastic and nimble. They seem to possess quick, playful, inventive minds. (Katie Hartman's anger is strangely amusing. Daniel Kelley's Jesus is quietly and deeply hysterical). What caused my friend to wonder why people like sketch comedy had less to do with the form itself and more to do with the rhythms of this particular show. The sketches and interludes are funny by themselves but don't cohere as an entire show. The sketches and interludes are connected by a thread of ideas, many of which are left dangling when they finish. One doesn't pick up where the other leaves off and it forces the audience to rewind rather than follow along. And the show never builds upon the flexibility of the literal and figurative space in which they perform. The Impending Moustache proposes a show with the ability to travel beyond the bounds of a typical sketch comedy show—the elements are there, the players are clearly capable—but never goes beyond the promise of its conceits.