|Image courtesy Brave New Workshop|
Years of political and social turmoil have been kind to the Brave New Workshop, who have plenty of material to mine for each of their revues. That's clear throughout Occupy Arden Hills; or, Brother Can You Spare a Dome? which uses the recent protest movements as a springboard. There's more than just that on their minds -- there are special appearances by Zigi Wilf, a black bus driver with magical advice for some of the lost souls, and a listen in on the wasteland of Twin Cities' radio.
The cast -- Josh Eakright, Bobby Garder, Andy Hilbrands, Ellie Hino, and Taj Ruler -- is game for whatever comes up, producing a breezy and funny look at the state of the world. Sketch-comedy revues are judged by the percentage of bits that work versus those that don't, and Occupy Arden Hills comes up on the plus side of that equation.
Some of the jokes are pretty easy. Targeting the Occupy protesters as a bunch of lost 20-somethings obsessed with making noise rather than working for change is definitely low-hanging fruit, but the actors do put a bit of humanity behind their characters. Will the disenfranchised sports fan who doesn't want a new palace for the Vikings find a purpose, and maybe love? Okay, it's not that big of a deal, but it helps to shape the show a bit.
The company takes aim at themselves, essentially, with "The Worst Generation," a riff on Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation, where the newscaster delves into the naval-gazing current youngsters. (Of course, the same accusations were made to the Baby Boomers who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, not to mention Generation X and probably every other generation ever, but anyway.) That theme comes up again and again throughout the piece, as does the diffuse nature of the protests.
Other parts that work well include a lament sung about not just making things better for the ninety-nine percent, but getting to live like the richest of the rich. Eakhart has a fine moment late in the show as Gabriel Jankey, the world's worst motivational speaker, who tries to follow up his successes with New Coke, the Microsoft Zune, and Michelle Bachmann's presidential campaign by firing up the Occupy troops with some completely inappropriate language.
As often is the case with Brave New Workshop, I wish the creators -- the company, along with director Caleb McEwen -- had reached a little higher on the tree for their comedy. The Occupy movement and the economic divide in the country are really ripe for good parody and satire, but just riffing on their lack of direction seems like a lost opportunity. The talent, both performing and writing wise, is there, but complete satisfaction is still a few steps away.
IF YOU GO:
Occupy Arden Hills; or, Brother Can You Spare a Dome?
Brave New Workshop Theatre
824 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis
Through April 14
For tickets, call 612.332.6620 or visit online