The Performant: Upright Citizen’s Brigade and Fly Trap Theatre spelunk the absurd


Reviews of recent arts and culture happenings

When asked by the Upright Citizen’s Brigade touring company last Friday what his motto in life was, the random guy onstage we’ll call Nick (because that’s what he called himself) said “abandon all hope ye who enter here,” which seemed a little heavy for an evening of comedy, but the UCB took it in stride. This influential improv group, hosted locally by Bay Area improvisers Pan Theater, plumbed the depths of Nick’s predilections and peccadilloes with gusto. Got hit by an SUV on your motorcycle, must be those preciously extended pinkies, dude. Got slapped down by a bio-bitch down the street—why don’t you stick with the steampunk tranny hos in your own backyard? Why not launch a string of rockets into the street and call it installation art? Why not make sandwiches with a block of cheese containing the cremated ashes of your loved ones?

The second portion of the show was a series of short improvs based on text messages called out by the oddience (my personal favorite: “if they’re not playing D&D they should go to the demolition derby”) and included a round of double-jeopardy where the contestants drank themselves smart, a unique menstruation situation involving Beggin’ Strips, a few unfortunate deaths courtesy of the 911 call center, and a company policy of suicide handed down from “corporate”. Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up! But the lightning-quick, three-man-one-woman touring company of LA-based performers can and did, riffing on themes so absurd it made "The Young Ones" look like "Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood." Or vice versa, depending on your brand of dada.
Dropping in on the “Fly Trap Theatre” at Paxton Gate Curiosities for Kids in the Mission on Saturday, I was treated to a different kind of improvisation, as Danielle Coe, a cheery volunteer from the Conservatory of Flowers dissected a pitcher plant for a handful of curious kiddies, who “eeewww”’d in satisfied unison when half-digested beetles plopped out into a plastic dish. The star of the “show” was indubitably the red-tinged Venus Flytrap snapping its leafy mandibles tightly shut on command (a soft nudge with a wooden dowel), a plant so insatiable that one of its several feeder “mouths” had closed tightly on the stem of another.

“I like doing the shows here in the Mission,” said Danielle, “it’s fun to work with the kids. You get to be less scripted, and more silly.” Sounds like improv
to me, albeit minus the beloved block of cremated mom + Montereyjack. But really, what could be more patently absurd than a carnivorous plant attempting to devour itself? The only auto-cannibal on the planet lower on the food chain than its usual meal.

Nothing to do with the above, but mention should be made somewhere of the Dan Plasma stage mural for “The 91’ Owl” which recently closed at the BurielClayTheatre. His distinctive design lent the bare bones set an air of urban authenticity, San Francisco-style.

Also from this author

  • Bee true

    The documentaries of Berlin and Beyond

  • Divining the entrails

    New Last Gasp releases explore the unsettling art of Laurie Lipton and Elizabeth McGrath

  • The Performant: Epochalypse Now