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The Happy Show

30 Apr

At Least There Was a Meal or I Got To Be a Train!

Live Action Set's Noah Bremer. Photo by Eric Melzer.

Here is the requisite truth-in-reporting caveat- I was having a trying day on Thursday before I headed over to Bedlam Theatre to catch the opening of Live Action Set’s The Happy Show. I was not a happy camper. I was in need of a good shot of happiness and after being made supremely happy by their trateaux-style Lord-of-the-Rings-in-8-minutes at 1419 late last week, I was looking forward to the show. After all, under the direction of Ryan Underbakke, the cast is large and full of talented people, gifted physical and comedic actors, but by the end of the night, I felt let down that the only time I was able to see all of them together was an opening song-and-dance number. The Happy Show is not so much a show, as a choose-your-own-adventure series of little skits where the audience wanders from vignette to vignette accompanied by forcible encouragements to enjoy oneself. There is lots of clowning involved and silly stories and DIY cute is the overall aesthetic, so maybe The Cutesy Meander would have been more apropos as a title.

Live Action Set Artistic Director Noah Bremer kicked off the show sitting in the mostly bare space of the Bedlam mainstage in comically ill-fitting suit petting a large cottonball sheep, nervously talking about waiting for a sign. He has been chosen “by the gods” to wait for a sign before the beginning of the “ritual” of the Happy Show. This talk is essentially a red herring to get to a full cast introduction and song-and-dance opening and send people out to the various locations of the sketches. In the intro, Bremer had quipped that they “had done the math” and that it was impossible to see every option that the show had to offer so that there is no way I can report on the full show. Since I had chosen a red juice token when purchasing my ticket, I got to go off to a room where Bremer and Noah Coon, a gregarious blond boy of about 10 or so told us an excitable story of being treasure hunters searching for the Key to Happiness at the behest of the City of Minneapolis, which was pretty much like asking a hyper child to recount the plots of the Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider movies with some Tom Swift thrown in for good measure. In another part of the theatre, there were cheers from the beer or wine token crowd and after the story, I played a game pretending to be a train. Did I mention that we were all wearing animal headdresses by this point? We were.

After the first round of sketches, we were brought back in to the mainstage for a meal from the excellent Bedlam kitchen, pulled pork or tempeh sandwiches, chips and pickles with a free drink from the bar with your token, which just about makes up the cost of the $15 ticket. At this point, I am glad I hooked back up with a friend who had received instructions as to what to do next, as I was feeling a little lost in the shuffle as the atmosphere was more of disorganized improvisation than chaotic revelry. The masks were late in being handed out, tech elements didn’t work as planned, there was stalling and some foot-shuffling and waiting, hopefully all of which are first show difficulties that can be fixed, but it all undercut the easy flow that is necessary for a show based around a promenade to work. Trying to get from set piece to set piece, all calculated to extract carefree happiness began to feel more like a task than a joy.

For me and my companions, a James Bond parody piece of playacting ensued, including little paper cutouts and sock puppets, and then I caught a red nose clown bit from Happy Show principal Diogo Lopes, amusing mostly because of the steady stream of Portuguese that heightened the absurdity. The ending with Bremer being judged by “the gods” is again, cute, and well choreographed and I won’t tell you what it is, but it is also set, for the most part, behind a large black screen hiding the actors for the most part. Stepping out into the lobby after the curtain call, reactions ranged from “I feel like all the unhappiness has been squeezed out of me,” to “Did it make you happy? Passably.” I left disappointed, not so happy, feeling like I had seen some gifted people spread out over an extended talent show or Punch-and-Judy pantomime. Should you go? Sure. It will make the actors happy.

End note: Bremer, Underbakke and Happy Show principal Brant Miller are leading a workshop on trateaux performance May 10 from 5-9pm. The cost is $25 before May 7, $30 after. These are some talented folks, so get something good out of it.

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