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Higher Underground

Single Carrot Theatre Continues Its Winning Streak

LEISURE SUITCASE: Genevieve De Mahy (left) and Giti Lynn shed their excess baggage.

By John Barry | Posted 3/19/2008

Sects and Violins

At Load of Fun through March 29

When Single Carrot dims the lights at Load of Fun, and then gets through the introductory skit--a groan-inducing riff on Robert De Niro in the public library, eating a popsicle, at the bank, being born, at Dunkin' Donuts--it may seem like you're in for a long evening. That doesn't turn out to be the case, and not just because the skits keep getting better. That's because even the ones that they conceived at closing time at the bar across the street leave you waiting for more. This group of young actors, fresh out of Colorado, has the attraction of high-wire artists: At those moments when the material is a little shaky, they negotiate it with balance and coordination.

Meanwhile, enjoy the free Natty Bohs. Although this might qualify as experimental theater, it doesn't place you on the spot intellectually. Sects and Violins is like 90 minutes of Mad TV, without the commercials--or mixed improv without the hand-wringing. Or you can just look at them as, possibly, Baltimore's tightest and brightest ensemble of actors.

In this democratically conceived production, the actors have worked together long enough to slip easily into personas, or to make it interesting when they work against them. Brendan Ragan appears to take the more alpha-male parts. Elliott Rauh is the somewhat hapless bumbler. Giti Lynn plays the dumb blonde. Genevieve de Mahy is the arrogant high-maintenance chick. Aldo Pantoja is the sleazy Latino. But forget the pigeonholes. They all do a wealth of other stuff, too, with the chemistry of actors who have spent long periods of time in the same room with one another. This was the company, remember, that burst on the local theater community with 24-hour theater at last summer's Artscape.

The thematic tie that binds this controlled chaos, according to director Jessica Garnett's notes, is the inability of humanoids to communicate--OK, fine, that pretty much embraces the canon of Western theater. For this particular quintuplet of actors, though, miscommunication involves the missteps of hack drivers, hired killers, blind dates, families, lounge singers, office co-workers, and others.

The highlights: A brother and sister try to smooth over intrafamily tensions by engaging in New Age yoga therapy. Once they roll out the mats, though, their instructor gets them a little closer than they bargained for. A young man finds himself on a blind date with a woman. She turns out to be a manipulative artist who makes sculptures out of safety pins and moves into high-drama relationships. A Mafia hit man gets fired and looks for other day jobs. A pair of upper-class Baltimore hackers heads down to the block to pick up some cross-dressing undercover cops. On Singles-R-Us.com, fantasy dates turn into nightmare scenarios. A boss and his assistant try to tell a 19-year office worker that he's fired, but he doesn't get the delicate metaphors.

Weaving through this is a pair of lounge singers, Duke (Ragan) and Hector (Pantoja). No one's going to watch them without thinking of the Blues Brothers, but, then, they also remind us that the Blues Brothers were actually funny once. They are a genuinely tight duo--thanks in part to Pantoja's flamenco-tinged guitar playing--with a set of very funny originals.

There may be improvisation, but there's no visible sloppiness. However enjoyable and low budget the production, it's clear that director Garnett and company have trimmed and polished their comic brainstorms into tight, coherent skits. Split-second scene and costume changes go off without a hitch, actors don't hang around getting lost, no one riffs on the same joke, and they don't laugh at their own jokes.

Is this what Paul Cézanne meant when he said that a single carrot could set off a revolution? This troupe is known for going out on a limb theatrically, but here they just appear to be enjoying themselves. This 90-minute production, with its 15 sketches, may not set off a revolution, but it should remind you that there's buried treasure in Baltimore's theatrical underground.

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