Of fathers, sons, and magic clowns

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Yesterday afternoon, 3pm-ish found this Spoleto Buzz blogger in a mostly full Theatre 99, taking in Andrew Connor and Mike Mathieu’s quadruple threat – singing, dancing, acting, and improvising – for their mostly scripted comedy act known as The Cody Rivers Show. “Singular” is probably too mild a description for what these two Ohio Wesleyan grads do. “Bizarre” is closer to the quick, but “physical” and “intelligent” also belong in the mix.

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Wearing green jump suits and wigs, Connor and Mathieu’s sketch comedy was smart but sometimes surreal, as when the two performed a bit between a schoolteacher and one of her unruly students’ father. At one point, one of them used the four-finger “air quotes” gesture to suggest skepticism, and the two were off like shots, generating new hand gestures for every piece of punctuation that popped up: brackets, ellipses, parenthesis, question marks. The teacher had an emergetic fit of a monologue that looked like an exercise in calisthenics. Sketches had no transitions between them, but the two actors filled the in-between spaces with strange singing and dancing acts that, frankly, defy description.

The sketches themselves were unconventional gems of physical comedy that often squeezed pathos for laughs. A young boy tried to tell a crowd about his trip to an aquarium with his father, while his father, encouraging him from the audience, kept interrupting and correcting and amending the story. Finally, the frustrated boy exploded, launching into an elaborate, top-volume lie about 4,000 hot air balloons descending onto a beach, whereupon thousands of clowns emerged from them and sang their magic song, which caused the ocean to retreat. The clowns scooped up all the exposed starfish, climbed back into their balloons, and sailed off. In another sketch, the pair played the boy and his father at the aquarium – though it’s more accurate to say they voice-acted the boy and his father while their four hands played the creatures in the tank: shrimp, crabs, schooling fish, turtles, sharks, sea anemonae, starfish, and – hilariously – a piece of poisonous coral.

Like the Harvard Sailing Team, the Cody Rivers Show’s sketches kept a finger on a slim narrative thread and worked established themes into many of the sketches. Near the end of the show, they mimed a pair of characters who seemed to be operating some kind of machinery from up in the air. Eventually, their balloon landed, and the two clowns emerged onto the beach. After that ... well, I don’t want to ruin it for you.

Mid-performance cellphone ring count: 1 (again, right next to me).

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