The opening night of the fourth Annual Women in Comedy Festival, saw three shows scattered across Cambridge begin simultaneously at 8 p.m. I squeezed my way into a sold out performance on the smallest of the night's stages, The Studio Theater at ImprovBoston.
"Bearcats, The Dowry and Harry Roasts America, Hosted by Raj Sivaraman" promised a bit of improv, a bit of sketch comedy, a bit of stand up and a satirical news show, which sounded to me like the perfect way to ease in to a five-day festival. The room is a very close space, and they've added a black box in the corner to serve as the performers' "wing" since I was there last, which makes it seem even smaller. Couple that with the tech requirements -- a professional camera set-up in the back and two techs/producers sitting at the board -- and fitting 35 audience members and four acts into the room seemed like a stretch, but it worked.
The Dowry took the stage next with selections from the sketch show they've been performing on Fridays for a two-month run that began March 2, "500 Days 'Til Summer." The group has been one of the more cohesive sketch troupes in the area for the past few years, and their writing has always been very strong. They know each other's styles and play well together. I assumed their show would include references to The Hunger Games and it was a given that I wouldn't understand most of those. I didn't expect them to come out for their first sketch dressed as a turtle and a ninja turtle. Why going back to the '80s and '90s makes pop cultural references more accessible than current ones is something I'm not sure I'm ready to delve into, but the entire audience got it immediately. One of the brilliant things about The Dowry is that their references -- and yes, they did cover Hunger Games -- involve more than standard one-note pandering to a franchise-obsessed audience. I haven't read or seen any of the Twilight books or seen any of the movies, but they compared the two big franchises in such a way that it was funny without knowing the source material. What The Dowry excels at is poking fun at the popular intake of pop culture. This is much harder to do than it sounds, and they do it well.
Following the sketch portion of the evening was "Harry Roasts America: Am I Right, Ladies?" edition. The show is both performed live and broadcast later on local access TV. Host Harry Gordon and producer Ryan Douglass were part of Ian Brownell and JR Strauss's sadly defunct Boston News Net, and Harry Roasts is comedy in the same high-gloss vein with slickly professional production values. That said, I'll probably never know if the technical difficulties at the top of the set were scripted or not, and I'm okay with that kind of ignorance.
Harry Gordon has a masterful stage presence. The thing about Harry Gordon is that he never looks like he should be as confident onstage as he is. He is a constant surprise and delight to watch. Ryan Douglass plays well as his comedic foil who beyond performing the "loveable screw up" character also gets the chance to turn the screws. On top of that, there's the very smart skewering of the news of the day. There is an entire generation out there that considers The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to be legitimate news sources. This is the local news source that should be added to their DVRs.
The four acts of the night fit well together in a space that at first threatened to be suffocating. Judging by the audience reaction, at the end of night one the Women in Comedy Festival was off to a raucously good start.
Liz McKeon is the Chief Editor for the Women in Comedy Festival.
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