Curtain Calls

By Donald V. Calamia

CC House2.jpg: Comedian/actor Jen House stars in her first one-woman show, "Who's House." Photo courtesy The Abreact

Review: 'Who's House?'

Presto-chango: Jen & Co. are in the house

I have to admit that I chuckled when a press release from Detroit's coolest theater, The Abreact, first crossed my desk a few weeks back. It wasn't a particularly funny release - it was promoting its then-upcoming production of "Who's House?"; rather, what tickled my funny bone was what seemed to be a very typical, but glaring grammatical error.

"It's 'WHOSE House?'" the editor in me said. But then I read further and decided that the title was really a challenge issued by the play's creator to get to know her better. And that was fine with me, because, quite frankly, I don't know much about comedian/actor Jen House, so I gladly welcomed the challenge.

Well, after attending the opening night performance I STILL don't know much about Jen, so my theory might be wrong. But what I did discover was this: That like everyone else in the world, Jen has a story to tell.

Actually, it's six stories, and she's brought them all to life in a fast-paced, 50-minute, one-woman show.

It takes guts - and a bit of chutzpah - to write and star in a one-person show. After all, just because someone THINKS their stories are interesting enough to share, doesn't necessarily mean that they are. And equally as important, are the stories told in a manner that's clear, concise and universal enough to grab and hold your audience's attention?

From a performance standpoint, Jen's first solo show is a whole lot of fun.

Five of her characters - both male and female - are distinct and totally unique. There's a redneck woman who's sick and tired of her lazy roommate; a loud, life-of-the-party kind of guy; a jittery woman in a baseball cap who's fixated on sports; a woman with a speech impediment auditioning for a voice-over job; and a Tom Jones wannabe lounge performer. They're funny, they're well delineated and her blazingly quick costume changes are amazing.

Then there's a sixth character, a waitress and TV addict, who just might represent Jen.

However, that's one of the structural problems with the show.

What's missing is an obvious "reason for being" - that is, a unifying theme that ties the characters and show together. Instead, we're simply introduced to six quirky characters who have no obvious relationship with one another, except that they cross paths in an imaginative - but somewhat overly long - video by Mickey Brown. They come, they go and they come again - seemingly for no reason other than Jen wants them to.

Or so it seems.

Could the life-of-the-party guy be Jen's dad - if one of the characters is, indeed, Jen? And could Jen be the briefly mentioned "girlfriend" of the redneck woman? With no explanation, narration or dialogue to guide us, we'll never know - and that's a shame.

Another significant problem is the show's ending: There isn't one. But given how the characters simply pop up unannounced, should we expect the conclusion to be any different?

"Who's House?" runs Fri.-Sat. at The Abreact, 442 E. Lafayette, on the fringe of Greektown, Detroit, through April 22, plus Sun., April 16. Admission by donation. For information: http://www.theabreact.com

The Bottom Line: Consider this an entertaining workshop production that needs judicious editing and a tighter structure.

Review: 'The Price of Justice'

Cops, crooks and comedy mix it up at Improv Inferno

Crime is on the rise in Century City - and so are the laughs at Improv Inferno, thanks to two actors, one director and plethora of zany characters you wouldn't want protecting or ravaging your fine home town.

But that's the price of justice, I guess - which also happens to be the name of the latest original comedy created through improvisation that's now playing at Ann Arbor's funniest downtown hotspot. From Sgt. Joe Friday to Lt. Frank Drebin, "The Price of Justice" is a sketch comedy that's part parody and part homage to every movie and TV cop that's ever existed, and it's filled with genuine laughs from start to finish.

A one-eyed criminal mastermind is behind Century City's crime surge, and one cop - Detective Bill Malloy (played by Saurin Choksi), whose partner was recently killed by the fiend - has vowed to get him. Together with Patches (Tim McKendrick) - his new partner who coincidentally looks like the killer and also has only one good eye - they scour the town looking for the evildoer. They will not rest until Roddick is brought to justice.

Well, not exactly.

For you see, things are not exactly what they seem. Okay, yes they are: Malloy isn't the brightest cop on the squad, and it takes forever for him to see what has been under his nose all along. But until he does, we're introduced to a colorful array of characters - both involved in the case and not - including Papa Smurf, a kid-corrupting recording star who's snuffed out for stealing lyrics; Malloy's senile, yet perceptive grandfather; dueling attorneys; cops on a stakeout; and a lieutenant who tries to strip Malloy of more than just his badge and gun.

Plus, as a cool touch, the dozen-plus scenes are bridged by radio news anchor Burt Baxter who's delivering the day's headlines in a style those of us older than dirt will recognize as a tribute to CKLW's Byron MacGregor and his dramatic 20/20 News broadcasts of the late 1960s.

It's a dizzily paced production that succeeds because of its talented creators. Under the fine direction of Nate DuFort, Choksi and McKendrick are fun to watch as they not only interact with each other, but also with the audience. (Yes, there is some brief audience participation at the show's opening that perfectly sets the evening's tone.) The quick-thinking McKendrick, especially, excels with every character he creates. He's a joy to watch!

"The Price of Justice" runs every Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m. at Improv Inferno, 309 S. Main St., Ann Arbor, through April 29. Tickets: $10. For information: 734-214-7080 or http://www.improvinferno.com

The Bottom Line: An arresting sketch comedy that pokes fun, yet never insults.

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