Boredom Gets More Than Giggles
The new semi-improvised comedy, Boredom, had been pre-filed in my mind under that tired category of “been done before.” I sat down and thought, yep. It’s all there.
The stereotypes: opening with one of those deep drunken conversations in which the participants explicate on life to a level never before reached and a proliferation of individual type-casting. There was the stoner, the caffeine addict, the misfit, the badass new kid. Come on, another high school improv comedy series?
But forever the optimist, I had not yet shut my mind to the possibility that I was just being too skeptical. And thank goodness I hadn’t.
It was somewhere in the endearing conversation between siblings, the classic night-before-school-starts chat, that I first realized my misjudgment.
“What if I miss class?” asked a characteristically nervous freshman, played by first-year student Sarah Frank.
“Wear a shorter skirt next time,” said her older sister Alex, played by junior Tess Webre.
Nostalgia was seeping into the corners of my brain at this point. A certain conversation my younger sister and I had weeks ago on her shirt preference for picture day floated to the top of the pool. The iron grip I had on my pen loosened and I started to slouch — a true sign of sufficient entertainment (cue image of teenage boys huddled around the Playstation — no straight spines there).
“I would like to extend a warm welcome to you all, particularly the freshmen, most of whom are new this year,” said the principal in an announcement as the students entered the building. Glibly he babbled along, allowing this common high school ritual to become a definition of the show’s redeeming qualities.
“We’re kind of exiling ourselves; we’re trying to capitalize our awkwardness,” said Paul Gibson, who plays the misfit character Ren.
The comedy, often likened to the short-lived but sweet TV show Freaks and Geeks, is an attempt to capture the insecurity of this stage of teenage life. For me, it was this truth that really pulled the production together.
I was next tickled by a quip made by junior Anna Leuchtenberger, who plays Gwen, a somewhat eccentric and jittery teen. She explained her summer by describing herself as a vegetable — but not just any vegetable. She spent it as a pumpkin that has been sitting in the patch too long so its bottom got all soft.
The combination of the quirky line and the seeming nonchalance with which Alex took it caused more than one of the stone-cold-type audience members to crack.
Also particularly amusing were the scenes in the guidance office. A guest appearance by Stillwater actor Tom Curtin set a lively spin on the plot.
“We love Tom so much in Stillwater that we wanted to include him in our show,” said cast members.”
When the entire student body manages to get in trouble for wreaking havoc on the school via a food fight, they visit Dr. Robert Zimmerman (Curtin) for some group activities. And yes indeed, he is the sort of hippie-dippy character his name suggests. Sophomore Alyse Frosch (Poppy) remembered that Curtin, upon hearing the name of his character, said, “Is my character aware that he’s Bob Dylan?”
I admit, I had fostered a sadistic impression that the two campus improv groups doing high school dramas would be at odds. I was once more mistaken (and starting to doubt my capacity to gather information and make conclusions).
“We love Stillwater!” said cast members repeatedly upon my mention of the other improv group.
“The improv community has been really supportive of us — and for that we thank them,” said Paul, before expounding on the fact that many of the Boredom cast members watch Standing in Stillwater and vice versa.
Now, just how scripted is the show? Some structure does exist. Each season has the general plot of one high school year. The specifics are classified, of course, but the basic idea is that each scene has a purpose. The improvisers are told where they need to go, from a certain point in the plot at the beginning of the scene to another at the end. They are also told what the scene needs to feel like generally. Other than that, they are on their own. The dialogue is entirely made up on the spot.
Who issues these vague directions to inspire the actors? The five — yes, five — directors of the show. Even the cast itself knows one director only as “Moon,” and it was he, this mysterious character, who brought Boredom into being. He was influenced by Holy Virgin High and, of course, Stillwater. Along with directors Erin Shiba, Emile Bokaer, Ella Ornstein and Quentin Jones, he means to portray the trials of high school in a different light.
I have to commend these guys for being what they are. They seem to portray the real grit of Oberlin. No frills. As frillless as a ham and bacon focaccia sandwich with pepper jack cheese and honey mustard dressing — or maybe that’s not frill-less. But it is Frosch’s favorite DeCafe sandwich, and therefore supremely real (and reportedly delicious), just like the show. And that does it for me, and probably would for you too.
So go see them, Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. in the New Union Center for the
Arts building. And as an added bonus, check out the Improv Showcase at the Cat
in the Cream this Friday, Nov. 11, at 8 p.m., to see not only Boredom,
but Standing in Stillwater, Primitive Streak and The Sunshine