Comedy

The Explorer’s Club at Burlington County Footlighters

Explorer's Club SetThat’s got to be the most underrepresented topic in the history of theatre, I thought when Gaby Affleck described her latest project to me. As an award winning director of shows ranging from Dracula to Of Mice and Men, Ms. Affleck could’ve opted to bring any subject to the stage. Just what did she choose this time? She decided to direct her first farce: a play about explorers. While a topic traditionally overlooked by community theatre companies, the cast and crew at Burlington County Footlighters more than compensated for this history of neglect. I embarked on a voyage of laugher (and TO SCIENCE) during the opening night performance of Nell Benjamin’s The Explorer’s Club this November 3rd.

The story contained a hyper-extreme conflict by the standards of 1879 Victorian society. Explorer Phyllida Spotte-Hume (played by Rachel Comenzo) aspired to be the first woman to join The Explorer’s Club. Ms. Spote-Hume encountered resistance from the membership. Not much of a surprise, there. Initially, I thought the whole ‘farce’ premise had to do with men from that less enlightened era even allowing a woman to enter their building. At any rate, the conflict continued to build as the botanist, Lucius Retaway (played by Michael Muller) and the dashing Harry Percy (played by Tim Petrillo) competed for her affections. In addition, a native she named ‘Luigi’ (played by Matt Dell’Olio) caused an international incident by greeting Queen Victoria in his tribe’s traditional manner: he slapped her across the face. With the overall tone of the story, I wondered if the playwright used this detail to add a bit of subtext.

As one would expect from a farce, the show featured a host of eccentric characters. Also, as anticipated, Ms. Affleck selected the perfect performers to play them. Ethan Rundell met the challenge of portraying the effeminate snake lover, Professor Cope. Lou DiPilla’s expressive performance of religion scholar, Dr. Sloane, blessed the audience. Dennis Dougherty depicted Guniea pig aficionado Professor Walling. Harry Percy (played by Tim Petrillo) seemed to lose all the men who followed him on his expeditions; his latest voyage to discover the East Pole proved no exception. It’s some club when the botanist (played by Michael Muller) who named a coma and death inducing plant after the woman he loved came across as the ‘normal’ one.

Mr. Muller and Mr. Petrillo played opposite one another particularly well. Their performances concretized the conflict between the nerdy botanist and the rugged explorer. Ms. Comenzo deftly displayed interest towards their characters at different times. Her warm smiles towards Lucius and extension of her lips toward Percy in various scenes accentuated the conflict.

Theatrical shows always contain some attribute that makes them unique. Speeches served as this one’s main feature. Ricardo Estevez delivered an impassioned oration regarding his insatiable need for vengeance and retribution…while playing a monk. His inclusion of karate chops and kicks while moving about the entire stage enhanced the performance. He selected impeccable gestures to compliment his delivery.

Rachel Comenzo spoke with flawless diction when delivering her character’s opening lecture. One also has to credit her for keeping a straight face. The new society her character discovered looked like a nation of people from the Blue Man Group. This performer impressed by pronouncing place names most people can’t attempt to spell.

I also applaud Ms. Comenzo for her choice of accent. In the playbill she mentioned devoting a great deal of time towards perfecting it. Her efforts paid off handsomely. She played the dual roles of twin sisters in the show. She adjusted her voice to fit each character and make both distinct.

Matt Dell’Olio possesses a genius for delivering soliloquys. In Dead Man’s Cell Phone, he presented a monologue about Lobster Bisque soup in a method that made it rival the “to be or not to be” monolog from Hamlet. In this show, he presented a solo speech just as gripping. He did so while speaking in gibberish. With a character talking incomprehensibly, gestures and facial expressions become more crucial. He nailed them. Mr. Dell’Olio also displayed phenomenal dexterity prancing around the stage.

Last year Mr. Dell’Olio earned BCF’s Best Actor Award for his performance in Dead Man’s Cell Phone. His robust portrayal in this one may have netted him another one.

I didn’t believe it possible for Jim Frazer to design a better set than the Christmas Village he created for 2016’s A Christmas Carol. This one came close. It captured the essence of a manly “Old Boys’ Club” while including a touch of comedy. The stage featured enormous tusks arranged like an archway, the ubiquitous deer heads, bearskin rugs hung on the wall and a globe displayed off to stage left. I give Mr. Frazer credit for creativity by including the mounted walrus head made by the show’s makeup artist Jasmine Chalfont.

The bar scenes proved a challenge for the cast. Mr. Dell’Olio’s character would say, “Here’s your drink, sir.” Then he would quickly slide a glass towards the front of the counter. It amazed me that every time he did this, the character he tossed the drink towards caught it the moment it slid off the bar…at least until the very end of the show.

Bernard DiCasimirro (as Sir Bernard Humphreys) dropped a glass before taking his curtain call. This performer made the best recovery I’ve witnessed at a live performance. Burlington County Footlighters legend Dan Brothers sat in the first row. While watching the play I thought Mr. Brothers would’ve been a solid addition to this show. He inadvertently got his chance. In response to Mr. Brothers’ jeer, Mr. DiCasimirro tossed the glass’ contents at him. I credit the performer for this improvised move. It made the miscue much more entertaining than it would have been if he’d executed the scene as written.

Harry Percy discussed following up his discovery of the East Pole with a trip to the West Pole. If he embarks on that voyage of exploration, let’s hope this cast and crew is available to tell the story.

I enjoyed Ms. Affleck’s latest journey as a director. “Farce is nothing to laugh at!” She wrote in the playbill. “It’s hard work.” That work paid off in the form of The Explorer’s Club. Audiences may survey it at Burlington County Footlighters through November 18th.

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Daralyn Kelleher: The Critique Compendium Interview

Daralyn Kelleher is a Los Angeles based comedian, writer, and actor. She studies the Meisner acting technique at the Meisner Daralyn-3041 websizedCenter in Burbank, California, and she has previously trained at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York. She likes to be silly on Twitter, and her tweets have been written about by The Experiment Comedy Blog, as well as Distractify.com. She was also nominated as “Best Comedy Twitter-er” for the INNY awards.  She has performed in the Devil’s Cup Comedy Festival in New York, and will soon be starting a weekly stand up show at Adults Only in Los Angeles. She loves her cats more than you will ever know.

Ms. Kelleher and I conducted the following interview via email during early April of 2017.

Critique Compendium: Tell me a little about yourself.

Daralyn Kelleher: I’m a nice young lady who lives in Los Angeles, California.

 

Critique Compendium: What first interested you in the performing arts?

Daralyn Kelleher: After college, I had a couple monotonous business jobs, and I became very creatively repressed. It started as a desperate need to express myself, and over the years has morphed into more of a desperate need to connect with others.

 

Critique Compendium: When did you start performing?

Daralyn Kelleher: I had taken acting classes in high school and college. I did my first stand up open mic in August 2011, though I had lurked around comedy shows for several months before I worked up the nerve to give it a shot. My first set was three minutes long and in front of five people, so needless to say I killed it (sarcasm, hehe).

 

Critique Compendium: What interested you in stand-up comedy?

Daralyn Kelleher: I always had funny tendencies with my close friends and family, and so I had wondered if it was something I could be capable of. I would go to larger-scale shows from time to time and think “could that be me one day!?” and then I would twirl under the moonlight with pure hope. One day, shortly after I had moved to NYC, my friend and I noticed chalk arrows on the sidewalk. We followed them, and they led us to a small comedy show in the back of a bar. When I say small, I mean we were the only two audience members. The experience was incredibly inspiring because that’s when I realized you can just write jokes and perform, like it’s pretty simple to do comedy. And so I did.

 

Critique Compendium: You refer to yourself as a comedian, writer and actor. Which is the most challenging?

Daralyn Kelleher: They are all equally difficult for me, and they all provide me with different necessities for emotional fulfillment.

Acting is difficult because I am reserved and have a tendency to hide what I’m feeling. I spent a lot of years hiding from my own emotions too, and that’s why I entered the acting school I’m in… because I wanted to confront them. I wanted to be a more self-realized and bold version of myself.

Writing is difficult because I’m working on a feature screenplay and it takes a tremendous amount of patience to create a well written and well structured script. I’m attempting to write a very personal story, and I feel a lot of pressure to do it perfectly so I can do it justice, so sometimes that will slow me down. I like writing as a channel, though, because there have time where I have made jokes that were far too dark to be in my stand-up act (at least at this time), and screenwriting is a much more formidable medium for material of heavy substance.

Comedy is difficult for me because I get a lot of anxiety if I’m not performing often enough. If I perform on a regular basis, I’m much more confident and engaging.

 

Critique Compendium: Describe your most memorable moment on stage so far.

Daralyn Kelleher: I pay very close attention to HOW audiences laugh, and what they’re communicating through their laughs. I’ve noticed “agreeing laughter” or “silly giggles”, but the one type of laughter that I saw was this uncontrollable uncontainable long lasting burst of laughs. I watched older more experienced comedians achieve the third type of laughter for years.

Then one time, I did that. I got people to laugh so hard that they were folded over in their chairs and they were sighing between laughs. I never thought I’d be able to, but then I did.

So I guess my new goal is to cause the audience to laugh so hard they collectively seizure.

I know it’s tough to know if I’m joking on that one. Am I?

Critique Compendium: What comics have influenced you?

Daralyn Kelleher: My two favorite comedians are Zach Galifianakis and Ellen Degeneres, and I have two favorite sets of theirs:

Ellen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIAAI3j_vsY&t=239s

Zach: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4j95ua

The Zach set is from 1999, and you can see how young he is in it. He’s just this big weirdo who doesn’t fit in but is beloved for his absurdity, and I find that to be so inspiring. I used to bomb at open mics in Brooklyn in my first couple years, and I would cry after, and sometimes the only thing that would make me feel better was rewatching this set. I’d rewatch it over and over until I fell asleep.

Watching the Ellen set is just delightful. It’s her debut on Johnny Carson, and I love the pace of her jokes up top. I love how dark she gets and charming the audience finds it. Until I’m good enough to do a late night set myself, I get to live vicariously through Ellen in this killer clip.

 

Critique Compendium: What do you do when you’re not on stage? What are your hobbies?

Daralyn Kelleher: My favorite hobby is cat cuddling. Well, it’s really more of a sport, but that’s beside the point. I don’t have too much time for hobbies, but I like generalized adventuring. Say I had time though, I like hiking, water skiing, and just going to new places.

 

Critique Compendium: How do you balance a career, family and your other interests with the demands of performing?

Daralyn Kelleher: Well, right now, my goal isn’t balance. It’s to set up a career in the very challenging world of entertainment. So, although I go on dates here and there and see friends, the goal is to make money from entertainment in some facet. Then I can focus on balance.

Critique Compendium: How do you approach writing your stand-up routines?

Daralyn Kelleher: Sometimes, I like to write about something that’s bothering me or stressing me out. I’ve learned if I’m not connected to the material, no one else will be either. Other times I just like to write a joke because I’m feeling mischievous or playful, and it’s fun just to create a quick one liner.

Daralyn Photo TwoCritique Compendium: How do you handle it when an audience doesn’t laugh at a punchline?

Daralyn Kelleher: I physically fight them.

If I don’t feel like a full out brawl (rare), I will acknowledge what it seems like they’re feeling in reaction to what I’ve said.

 

Critique Compendium: One of your strengths as a writer is finding humor in dark subjects. For instance, during one of your routines you referenced being mistaken for Marilyn Monroe except you’re “dead inside.” You also called yourself a “nude therapist” for sleeping with someone who had personal issues. From a writing standpoint, how do you take unpleasant subject matter and make it comical?

Daralyn Kelleher: For me, I learned after a few years that if I have the instinct to lie or cover up something, then I should undoubtedly write it into a joke. The nude therapist joke is about dating a guy who would rather talk about his ex in bed than sleep with me. I felt so small when that happened, but then when I made it into a joke, I could tell I wasn’t the only one who that’s happened to. That joke had a deep level of honesty, and though I don’t like to do it anymore, I feel like it brought my writing to another level.

The Marilyn Monroe joke is based on feeling stereotyped by people. The idea is that a guy came up to me and told me I reminded him of Marilyn Monroe and I say oh wow, how did you know I’m dead inside. There’s just a strong disconnect between how others see me at first and how I believe I really am and I wanted a joke to demonstrate that.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s your favorite joke?

Daralyn Kelleher: My favorite joke is Ellen’s “People always ask me were you funny as a child and no I was an accountant”

 

Critique Compendium: What do you bring to stand-up that other comedians don’t?

Daralyn Kelleher: You know, that’s a tough one to answer. People my whole life have told me I’m very unique, and to be honest, I’m not even sure I can quantify in what way that I am. I was just always different as a kid because I grew up in this family business in a town I did not fit into at all, and perhaps I just got used to being the different kid so I developed certain eccentricities. Whatever this phenomenon is, I’m learning to own it. My challenge is being a bit off beat and translating that into relatability.

 

Critique Compendium: You’ve performed in New York and Los Angeles. Have you noticed differences between East Coast and West Coast audiences?

Daralyn Kelleher: I’m not so sure that there’s that large of a difference in the audiences, so much as the performers. Broadly speaking, the stereotype is that NYC is a writer’s city, and LA is the showy performer’s city. I believe there’s some truth to it, but I’ve also seen the most animated performers in New York and the nerdiest comedy writers in LA…. so idk we’re all just human beings wherever we are.

 

Critique Compendium: On the television series Family Guy, the Brian character once observed, “all the stand-up comedians are on Twitter now.” Do you foresee a day when social media replaces traditional stand-up comedy?

Daralyn Kelleher: I don’t see that happening at all. Stand-up comedy is about genuine honest human connection. It’s a completely different phenomenon than reading tweets. I feel like Twitter is its own animal. It’s a digital filing cabinet of thoughts, and there’s an aspect of anonymity to it. Real life connection ain’t that organized. It’s messy and beautiful.

 

Critique Compendium: Lately you’ve been into Austin Powers impersonations. What brought that on?

Daralyn Kelleher: I really like posting polls on Twitter because I am typically surprised by what people vote on. I started by posting for advice on what to wear on a date, and I offered several normal suggestions, such as red dress, but I also added choices in such as “giant cat suit” and “Austin Powers costume.” I really liked how entertained people seemed to be by the weird choices so I continued to incorporate them into my future polls and tweets. Then I decided I would ACTUALLY make an Austin Powers video because some of my followers msged me, not believing I really had an Austin Powers costume. (I didn’t, but then I got one!) Anyway, it was a fun video to make. I am going to make more videos. Sometimes, I feel like the crazier I make myself look, the saner I feel.

 

Critique Compendium: What advice would you give to young people interested in participating in the performing arts?

Daralyn Kelleher: Do it. My problem has always been wanting certain achievements and not putting myself into action enough to attain them. So again, my advice is simply “do it”: the Nike slogan of comedy advice.

 

Critique Compendium: What adjective would best describe your career?

Daralyn Kelleher: Confusing.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s next for you?

Daralyn Kelleher: Dr. Evil. Jk. I have been working on stabilizing my new life out here in LA so that I may expend more and more energy on creative pursuits. I’ll be starting a weekly show at the Hollywood speakeasy Adults Only in a few weeks, so I’d like to be performing way more often than I have been. As well, I want to make more youtube videos, though I’m still figuring that out. And finally, I’d like the aforementioned screenplay to be completed.

Neil Simon’s Rumors Presented by Burlington County Footlighters

I heard a rumor that Burlington County Footlighters were putting on a show that featured a series of misunderstandings, slapstick humor and numerous comedic antics. Much to my relief they didn’t present a stage rendition of a Three’s Company episode. On Friday night I experienced the pleasure of attending the opening night showing of Neil Simon’s Rumors directed by Scott Angehr.

The title served as a good summation of this show’s content.  Upon arriving for a dinner party hosted by the Deputy Mayor of New York and his wife, guests Ken Gorman (Played by Gary Werner) and Chris Gorman (played by Corinne Hower-Greene) discovered him bleeding while his wife and servants were missing. They suspected he attempted suicide. They then called a doctor. When Chris got him on the phone, Ken then told her to say everything was fine. It turned out the Deputy Mayor only shot off part of his earlobe. Ken thought it best to discover what happened before contacting anyone else. He didn’t want his friend to get involved in a scandal.

Following that, more guests started arriving. Lenny Ganz (played by Paul Sollimo) and Claire Ganz (Megan Shafranski) entered the house. Ken and Chris used a series of stories to explain why the Deputy Mayor, his wife and the servants weren’t at the party. After they discovered the truth, more guests showed up. The four of them decided not to tell the new arrivals, Ernie Cusack (Greg Northram) and Cookie Cusack (Valerie Brothers), what had happened. This turned in to quite a challenge as Mr. Cusack worked as a psychoanalyst.

Gossip swirled around the characters’ romantic peccadillos. That led to even more misunderstandings. Are you following the plot at all? Well, it doesn’t matter. What is important is that all these antics made for an enjoyable evening of comedic mishaps from a series of quirky characters played by talented thespians.

The true highlight of the evening took place in the interplay between Glenn Cooper (played by Dan Brothers) and his wife Cassie (played by the omni-talented Rachel Comenzo). In the past I’ve watched Mr. Brothers perform serious dramatic roles. Most recently I saw him play the grief-stricken father in Footlighters’ production of Rabbit Hole. I’ve also attended several performances featuring Ms. Comenzo. She’s a gifted actress, but I’ve always thought her a stronger singer and dancer. When I read the cast list, it interested me to see how the two of them would play a married couple in a comedy. They both delivered performances well in excess of my expectations.

There’s an old adage about Hell having no fury like a woman scorned. Ms. Comenzo showed that Humorous Heaven has a special place for one, too. She did a phenomenal job of balancing anger and comedy in her opening argument with Mr. Brothers. I liked the way she could raise her voice in the context of an emotional conversation while still speaking clearly. Following this outburst, she admired herself in the mirror. These mannerisms provided great insight into the character.

Mr. Brothers did a fantastic job playing the “innocent” husband in the face of his wife’s accusations. In addition, he handled the physical comedy very well. In the hands of most performers slapstick becomes caricature. Mr. Brothers demonstrated that he isn’t “most performers.” He convincingly handled falling down after getting hit by a door. The most memorable moment of his performance occurred after his wife assaulted him with a phone. Mr. Brothers has a natural bass voice. With cotton stuffed up his nose he spoke in a high-pitched nasal squeal. Like his counterpart, he talked very clearly.

Proficiency at physical comedy must run in the family. Mr. Brother’s real-life wife, Valerie Brothers, got in on the act in her role as Cookie Cusack. Her character suffered from back problems that prevented her from both “walking” and “sitting”.  The audience roared as she made her way across the stage on her hands and feet with her body at a 90 degree angle. In order to do that she first had to lift herself out of a chair using only her upper body.

As readers if this blog are aware, in the past I’ve been attacked for making “troubling” and “disturbing” comments about female costuming. During this show I did have an observation about one of the actress’ attire. In the interest of artistic integrity I’m going to state it.

Corrine Hower-Greene played Chris Gorman, very well. From the trembling voice, the facial expressions and stumbling around the stage with a wine bottle she displayed the appropriate mannerisms of a neurotic woman. I thought some of her attire too distracting, though. While the plain black evening gown she wore contrasted well with the solid white background, my eyes kept getting drawn to her shoes. I agree that glittery silver shoes would be appropriate attire for a dinner party. I could imagine her character wearing them to such an occasion. For me, they stood out and kept diverting my attention. With the exception of Valerie Brothers, whose character wore a white dress, all the other actors wore dark colored shoes. As I wrote, Ms. Hower-Green is an exceptional performer with great stage presence. Audiences should be watching her performance, not staring at her shoes.

The antics and misunderstandings continued until the final curtain. The surprise ending left open the possibility of a sequel. If someone writes one, let’s hope the cast of Burlington County Footlighters’ production is available. They had such fantastic chemistry working together that I’d welcome the opportunity to see them reprise these roles. And that’s a fact, not a rumor.

Theater Review – Avenue Q at Burlington County Footlighters

Way back in my youth I often wondered how Sesame Street would’ve appeared if I’d been under the influence and listening to the Allman Brothers Band’s Live at the Fillmore East. Without the benefit of either of those, this afternoon I received my answer in the form of the Burlington County Footlighters production of Avenue Q. Spending a day listening to muppets curse, discuss homosexuality and internet pornography made me wish I’d put my idea into practice and made a little money off it. I have to admit author Jeff Whitty and songwriters Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx did a much better job than my meager talents could have.

Director Sean Flaherty, Musical Director Sean Mehlbaum,  and the BCF cast did a phenomenal job bringing this story to life. The cast performed superbly in presenting a pessimistic premise in a witty and entertaining way. The only times I recall the audience not laughing occurred during the musical numbers and the various applause periods.  

I’d never witnessed a community theater production before, and the level of talent I saw in the performers greatly exceeded my expectations. It takes a lot of skill to speak in different voices. It takes even more aptitude to sing in different ones while dancing and working a puppet. A special hat’s off goes to actors Matthew Holman (who played Princeton and Rod) as well as C. J. Kish (who played Nicky, Trekkie, and one of the Bad Idea Bears). I’d never seen either of these actors perform in the past, but I’d have to say I think either one of these thespians could be budding Seth MacFarlaines in terms of vocal skills.

While I would classify Avenue Q as a comedy despite the story’s pessimistic premise, the true highlight of the evening for me took place at the end of Act I. Actress Lindsey Krier’s (Kate Monster) moving performance of the ballad “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” almost brought me to tears. That’s a hell of an accomplishment for an actress playing a muppet. Before readers comment on my emotional reaction to such, here are some of the lyrics.

There’s a fine, fine line between a fairy tale and a lie.

As well as

There’s a fine, fine line between what you wanted and what you got.

And

But there’s a fine, fine line between love and a waste of your time.  

If I had to summarize Avenue Q in one sentence I’d select the first lyric cited above. In essence, the story described the tribulations of a group of people (and muppets) in their early twenties who discover that life isn’t everything they thought it would be while in college. The show included musical numbers to reflect this such as “What Do You Do with a B. A. in English?” and “I Wish I Could Go Back to College.” The characters lived on Avenue Q, located far away from the upscale Avenue A. The character of Princeton searched for a purpose, while his love interest, Kate Monster, searched for a boyfriend. Other dramatis personae included two human characters Brian (Derek L. Miller) an unemployed 32 year old want-to-be stand-up comedian and his similarly unemployed girlfriend with two masters degrees, Christmas Eve (Jillian Starr-Renbjor). The cast of characters also included former child star Gary Coleman as the building superintendent (played exceptionally well by Leilah Murphy). Rounding out the line-up were the two Bad Idea Bear muppets (C. J. Kish and Kori Rife) and Lucy the Slut (played by Rachel Kapulskey). Yes, you read that correctly. One of the muppets was named Lucy the Slut. The onanistic muppet Trekkie (C. J. Kish) rounded out the ensemble.  

It would be an understatement to write that characters this diverse and quirky made for a very interesting show. Prior to the performance the announcer declared that language some would find offensive would occur in the performance. Although the main characters were muppets, this was not a show suitable for children. With my maturity level, I felt a little surprised they let me in the building.

Everyone in the cast performed magnificently in their roles. I admired the way a number of actors/actresses also served as extra puppeteers. It took a lot of talent and hard work to make this show work.

I’d also like to credit the crew for weaving together the lighting, the projections and the set with the functioning windows. The live band sounded tight.  For a high tech show, it impressed me that everything went flawlessly without technical glitches.

Burlington County Footlighters billed Avenue Q as an “adult musical.” The script dealt with adult themes in many ways. Aside from the myriad comedic yuks, it addressed the serious side of growing up. It centered on when a person recognizes the gaps between youthful expectation and grown-up reality. (There’s a fine, fine line between what you wanted and what you got.) I can think of no better testament to the skill of the cast, director and crew at the Burlington County Footlighters than to say everyone left the theater with a smile on his/her face. The show runs through May 17th.