"The OffBeats" plays Thursday nights at 10 p.m. through April 4 at Go Comedy! Improv Theater and features Joe Hingelberg, James Quesada, Ryan Parmenter and Travis Pelto. Photo: SMyers

And The 'Beat' Goes On!

By John Quinn

You've got to hand it to the Merry Pranksters at Go Comedy! Improv Theater - they sure do their research. So what if it took 60 years to deliver the satirical thumping earned by the self-indulgent Beat Generation. The troupe has managed to evoke an era that even their fathers are probably too young to remember. "The OffBeats," a new late-night show, can heat up the coldest Ferndale February.

According to Wikipedia, the ultimate online source of reliable information (I'm KIDDING; I kid a lot), Jack Kerouac introduced the phrase "Beat Generation" in 1948 to characterize a "perceived underground, anti-conformist youth movement in New York." While originally meaning "beat down," Kerouac repurposed it to mean "upbeat." The Beat poetry movement rejected poetic as well as social conventions, through liberal doses of mood altering drugs, pan sexuality and petty larceny. Eventually many of the writers were drawn to Oz on the Pacific, otherwise known as San Francisco.

Thus we find our heroes, Bram (Joe Hingleberg), Mac (Travis Pelto) and Karl (James Quesada), Beat poets extraordinaire. Leaving the "gosh-forsaken heck hole" that was 1952 Detroit, the trio work their way west. Hopping one Beat bar at a time with no visible means of support, they're urged on by a mysterious stranger, Bart Ender (Ryan Parmenter), who is driven by ulterior motives. "On the road" to destiny they inevitably land in San Francisco to participate in the biggest poetry Beat meet of all time.

The Beat movement was a counter-cultural challenge to the status quo. The poetry was rife with "informal phrasing and diction and formless verse that attempts to capture spontaneity of thought and feeling." That's the key to the special humor of "The OffBeats."

The earnest sincerity of the characters contrasted with the inanity of their poetry makes this a showcase of satire. The script was written by the cast, and the hours of work necessary to create and then edit the wonderfully silly poetry shows in every moment. A Beat rap that includes a "gargantuan tarantula" is only a small sample of word play bubbling in this script.

Directing sketch comedy can take many forms, but I suspect Lauren Bickers may have employed a whip and chair. The portrayals are at a perfect level, suitably over the top but never overdone.

One note occurs to me. The writers might want to check Wikipedia about SENATOR McCarthy and the HOUSE Un-American Activities Committee.

Go Comedy! is yet another local company that knows its audience and crafts its offerings accordingly. "The OffBeats" is an intelligent, engaging production, regardless of its long-gone topic.

In short, it's "snaptastic," Daddy-o!


'The OffBeats'

Go Comedy! Improv Theater, 261 E. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale. 10 p.m. Thursday through April 4. 1 hour, no intermission. $10. 248-327-0575. http://www.gocomedy.net

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