A New Original Sketch Comedy Satirizes Culture And Politics
10/16/12 5:30PM By Neal Charnoff
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Burlington's Off-Center For The Dramatic Arts is playing host to a rare theatrical event in these parts: an evening of original sketch comedy.
"Stealing From Work" is a potpourri of irreverent humor, most of which comes from a decidedly feminist political perspective.
The target of one sketch is 1950s health education movies, as a school nurse speaks to a confused student.
It appears that nothing is sacred in "Stealing From Work." Even public television membership drives.
"Stealing From Work" was co-written by Marianne DiMascio of Burlington and Angie Albeck of Duxbury.
The play was launched after the two received a Flynn Center Vermont Artists Space Grant.
Marianne DiMascio says that until recently, sketch comedy has been a male-dominated field. She says this was an issue the two wanted to address, both on-stage and behind the scenes.
According to Dimascio, "A big part of the application for the grant was to say that we wanted sketch comedy to come from the perspective of women, and then when we hired a director and a stage manager, we just wanted to try and balance things out a little bit."
The playwrights enlisted veteran Vermont director Robin Fawcett to helm the show.
More than fifteen roles are played by four actors, including DiMascio, Chris Caswell, Kevin Christopher and Geeda Seerforce.
DiMascio says she's been influenced heavily by the improvisational and sketch comedy she had seen come out of Chicago's Second City comedy group.
"Vermont politics, national politics, issues with women, women's rights and filthy humor. Or maybe we should say bawdy, I don't know if that's a slightly more acceptable term!"
Or to put it another way, a press release says the play is immature humor for mature audiences.
But in fact, the playwrights are also committed to topical political humor. They've even left some open spots in the script to add material about the second presidential debate. They'll have just one night between the debate and opening night to script the final sketch.
After months of preparation, the playwrights believe they're ready for that kind of quick turnaround.
Angie Albeck says that as a former English major, she was surprised at how much effort goes into fast-paced sketch comedy.
"I didn't really comprehend the distance between a good idea for a sketch, and a completed ready for the stage sketch. It's a lot of work! A five-minute sketch...there are hours and hours of work that goes into that five-minute sketch."
Much of the satire in Stealing From Work is directed at Vermont culture and political correctness.
In one scene, a beleaguered family man is seeking atonement from a female goddess known as "The Absolver".
He's told that he must read Bill McKibben while riding a commuter bus.
So are Vermonters ready for a play that pokes fun at climate-change guru Bill McKibben?
Angie Albeck thinks so. She says the playwrights are part of the world they're satirizing.
"I can't poke fun a the beliefs of others unless I'm also willing to poke fun of my own beliefs, and I think it's about holding up a mirror, and when we're laughing, sometimes we can see each ourselves in a slightly different light."
Marianne DiMascio says that some audience members might be offended either by the adult situations, or by seeing sacred cows targeted. But she believes that humor can be a bridge to discussion.
"Humor really can be very powerful, and if it crosses a line, then you can start to lose viewers, but I hope that people will meet us at the line, and then have a conversation afterwards."
Dimascio says she and her playwriting partner would like to be a part of that conversation.
"I do hope people will talk about it afterwards, either talk to us or to other people in the audience about why it pushed a button...did it hold a mirror up, does it remind them of their neighbors? Of themselves?"
"Stealing From Work" runs this Wednesday through Saturday at the Off Center For Performing Arts in Burlington.