I can’t say why, but there’s something highly amusing — and imminently satisfying — about seeing somebody get hit on the head with a frying pan. Let’s face it: A pie in the face isn’t half as funny.
That particular brand of comic violence is central to Pete Bakely’s “Skillet Tag,” a raucous farce that finds time to satirize the global economy between outrageous acts of onstage violence.
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The set-up is a “team-building” exercise called by Jeff, an executive at a global greeting-card company that happens to be based in Kansas City. He brings together his office assistant, his staff attorney, his I.T. guy, a junior executive and a woman who shows up at the office each day to do nothing but drink.
This exercise is carried out in Jeff’s home and his idea is for the assembled employees to play an unusual game of tag in which the “tagging” is done with cast-iron skillets and steel frying pans. This can lead to nothing good, naturally, and when one of the characters is “tagged” with fatal results, a chain reaction is set in motion. Before the final curtain, the stage has been littered with bodies.
What makes the show fun is what Bakely does with his characters and plot. Revelations and reversals are cleverly woven into the story and the R-rated comedy is often so over the top that laughter is the only natural response.
The talented cast has varying levels of experience but director Sam Slosburg gives them a good run. Timing is key, and while some of the action was off a beat or two Wednesday night, much of it was on the money.
Of the men, the best performance comes from J. Will Fritz, the insecure computer technician, who finds himself reluctantly drawn into a hedonistic nightmare. Fritz plays the role like a little kid who just wants to go home and he scores some of the biggest laughs in the show.
Matt Leonard gives us a successful, aggressive performance as the megalomaniacal boss with a bizarre sex life that becomes clear as the play progresses. He’s the kind of employer who expresses frustration at the Human Resources Department for its insistence on things like firing with cause and its fussy rules about sexual harassment.
Phillip Shinn is amusing as a glib executive who looks for ways to turn the evening of murders to a business advantage and Kyle Wallen makes an impression in a brief but indelible appearance as a cop, whose incongruous beard and long hair would lead you to peg him as a heavy metal musician or resident of a hobo camp.
The women offer nice comic performances across the board, but none is more impressive than Kenna Marie Hall, whose transition from PMS-crazed office assistant to sexually aggressive serial killer is something to see.
Laura Jacobs gives us a smart, smoothly realized performance as the blithely inebriated corporate untouchable who settled a sexual harassment lawsuit by choosing to keep her job without having to do any work. Aurelie Roque seems a bit straitjacketed as the lawyer, although she knows how to deliver amusing one-liners. Chelsey Tigue, who shows up as a second cop in the closing minutes of the play, uses her obvious miscasting to her comic advantage.
Bakely exhibits a gift for absurdist humor and shows us that farce is far from dead. But with his penchant for the grotesque and wild sexual humor, Bakely is unlikely to see his work produced at the dinner theater anytime soon.
Slosburg puts together a clever curtain call, in which each actor comes on stage to be murdered by another, until at last the cast is piled in a heap at center stage. A fitting end to a show that delights in homicide.
‘Lessons From Marlene’
Katie Kalahurka is a gifted comedian, and her original show, “Lessons From Marlene,” is a trippy, absurdist step into a region not unlike the Twilight Zone. Performing at the Fishtank on Wednesday night for a sitting-room-only crowd — the overflow spectators sat on big cushions inches from the stage — Kalahurka combined humor and music with an occasional moments of poignancy.
Kalahurka’s show, directed by Vanessa Severo, appears to be a sort of cosmic hallucination that happens in a single, elongated moment as a character named Katie is about to be married. The ghost of Marlene Dietrich appears periodically to hand out advice on the meaning of life, and Katie shares strange chapters from her past, including an obsession with Scotty from “Star Trek.”
We get a few cabaret songs and an Irish ballad along the way, and while the show occasionally veers into incoherence, Kalahurka’s commanding performance leaves little doubt in the viewer’s mind that he or she has seen something remarkable — even if its meaning isn’t very clear.