Arts & Entertainment » Theater

Our local comedy scene gets a stage at Rochester Fringe, too


For a half-second, the online program accompanying the show seemed to be the usual straightforward collection of actor biographies. Until, if you’re a regular theatergoer, you got to Kyle William’s bio. Which should have set off some kind of alarm.

Kyle is excited to be playing a condom in this hilarious show, “What Happens in a Las Vegas Bathroom,” for the Rochester Fringe Festival.

“What Happens in a Las Vegas Bathroom” is one of five short stories that comprise “Oh, the Non-humanity.”

A comedy? Yes. But there was drama. Mainly in the form of Hilary Bluestein-Lyons. At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, she was at the School of the Arts Black Box Theatre for the five 10-minute plays she wrote for “Oh, the Non-Inhumanity.”

A half hour after it ended, she was to be at Salena’s Event Room, where she was presenting “Let the Chips Fall: Improvised Stand-Up.”

She made it! And with time to spare. But her week is not yet complete.

“Oh, the Non-humanity” returns 4 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday. “Let the Chips Fall: Improvised Stand-Up” is back at Salena’s 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Friday.

For those keeping a Bluestein-Lyons scorecard, the Rochester writer and performer also appears in a third show, “Inner Loops: Monologues About Place,” 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Geva Theatre Center’s Fielding Stage. And she’s coaching thespian hopefuls in “Stages of the Game Teen Improv Troupe” on the next two Saturdays at the Multi-use Community Cultural Center.

On Thursday, we saw what the non-humanity of the characters was: None of them were human. Except the dead guy, although that’s a matter of semantics. In “Sometimes a Sandwich Is Just a Sandwich,” the two characters were Peanut Butter and Jelly of that pantry veteran, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s a relationship loaded with sexual innuendo. “I just want to be on top,” said Jelly, as played by Noah McMullan, perhaps theater’s finest jelly ever.

Kyle William played his condom while wearing a Trojan solder’s helmet, and if you don’t get that joke there are plenty more coming. His character was paired with two feminine hygiene products. It was all comically uncomfortable, if that’s a thespian term.

Relief arrives when Bluestein-Lyons makes an onstage appearance in “I Really Don’t Care.” She plays a 45-rpm record in a jukebox, and halfway through the piece the audience has guessed which song she is. There will be no spoiler here: If you were anywhere near an AM car radio in 1972, you’ll get it.

In “Earth and Moon,” Shawnda Urie’s Moon complained that, “I was hit by an asteroid, for crissakes.” In “Wine Soirée,” wine-imbibing guardian angels revealed that the plush animal you give to your precious child is actually stuffed with the ashes of cremated souls.

Calm down, Barrymores. This isn’t Broadway, it’s a Fringe Festival. And if you followed Bluestein-Lyons down the street, to Village Gate Square and Salena’s Event Room, the night got even fringier.

Improv is not as easy as falling off a horse

Improvisational comedy is really hard. “We just know they’re naturally funny people,” Bluestein-Lyons said of the six comedians who followed her, one by one, to the stage. All of them clearly naturally funny people, with varying degrees of professional experience. Yet as Bluestein-Lyons said, “And now they have to prove it.”

Yes, improv comedy is really, really hard.

At Thursday night’s show at Salena’s Event Room, “Let the Chips Fall: Improvised Stand-Up” hosts Bluestein-Lyons and Chris Thompson threw topics to the audience. And it responded with specific prompts for each of the six comics’ seven minutes onstage.

Or, sometimes they responded. “Anyone here go out on social media?” Bluestein-Lyons asked. Three dozen people stared at her in silence, perhaps sensing a trap.

There were prompts that made those seven minutes feel like seven hours. “Let the Chips Fall” easily eclipsed “Oh, the Non-humanity” in comedians grasping for genitalia jokes. Not necessarily human genitals either, as Sarah Cannon — clearly one of the more-accomplished comics — referenced “the effervescence of horse urine.”

At least half the comedians self-identified as gay or, as Cindy Zicari Arena said, “a proud lesbian.” Then she confessed, “My family is in the porn business.”

For what that’s worth. Arena was clearly the most comfortable with this format. “My weight-loss goal,” she said, “was to sell my airline seat-belt extensions.” She compared this week’s Queen Elizabeth televised funeral road show to a popular 1989 black comedy. “They moved her body around, it’s like ‘A Weekend at Bernie’s!’”

No topic was off limits. Roe v. Wade? Someone found a joke there. The actor Christopher Reeve falling off a horse and breaking his neck? The audience groaned uncomfortably at that one, one of more than a few jokes that would have been better left unsaid.

That’s the risk with improv. It can be almost painful to watch. Because improv is really, really, really hard.

Jeff Spevak is WXXI’s Arts & Life editor. He can be reached at (585) 258-0343 [email protected].