Chris Anger and Keith McGill are Ricketts and Randy. Photo courtesy of Louisville Improvisers.
A late entry to the SLANT line-up, this is a show that exemplifies the quest for experimentation called for in the festival mission statement. Unusual in that it is a (mostly) scripted piece of material that includes some window for improvisation, it also dares to take a decidedly dark turn that moves it into deeper, more introspective territory.
The premise is simple: Randy is a ventriloquist working children’s parties with his dummy, named Ricketts. Party hats are distributed among the audience and the “act” begins as one might expect, with terrible, obvious routines and “knock-knock” jokes that become funny because they are delivered in the context of a performer so uncomfortable and anxious that one can see the flop sweat.
As the ventriloquist’s act begins to fall apart and the dummy’s dialogue turns sarcastic, it becomes apparent that Ricketts is very much an alter ego; the Hyde to Randy’s Jekyll. It is not necessarily a new idea; we’ve seen many variations on the notion of an inanimate object providing voice to the inner demons of the human psyche. But this performance stakes out a singular piece of ground: the need for identity to reconcile conflicts within itself and what happens when such conflicts defy resolution.
I know, I know, it IS a comedy show and it did bring the laughter. But it also brought considerable irony to the situation, introducing edgier themes in ways both serious and funny, but mostly funny. The result is theatre that is as provocative as it is entertaining, and runs the risk of alienating the audience as much as engaging it. I don’t easily imagine that Ricketts and Randy will fail to entertain in any of its scheduled run during the SLANT Festival; but it also stands a good chance of catching you by surprise, and that’s a good thing.
Keith McGill makes for a suitably neurotic and nervous Randy, while Chris Anger is remarkably restrained as Ricketts. I count restraint as an especially worthwhile value because a human playing a ventriloquist’s dummy is a casting rife with opportunity for overplaying. As the conflict between the two increases, Mr. Anger and Mr. McGill work closely together both physically and verbally to maintain the integrity of the premise so that the point is never lost.
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