Improv Troupes Concoct Crazy Characters in Joint Performance

Dessane Cassell

On Saturday night, Warner Gymnasium’s Studio Two was filled to the brim  students packed in for a double dose of improv. Primitive Streak and Sunshine Scouts, Oberlin’s long-form troupes, treated the audience to a night of appropriately inappropriate comedic spoofs, proving once more that you’re never too old for Mean Girls references or some awkward sexual tension.

The 10 members of Primitive Streak bounded through the rows of mismatched chairs, bleachers and couches to take their place on the studio’s main floor at 8 p.m. sharp. In signature improv style, the troupe started things off by soliciting some weird, funny and occasionally gross suggestions from the audience. Settling on the term “metamorphoses” for a comedic catalyst, College senior and Primitive Streak coach Maya Sharma began the set with a bit of quiet reflection on the topic. Recounting cringe-worthy memories from high school, Sharma chatted about being the outsider and the importance of standing up to bullies (even if only inside your own head or shower stall). New members and College sophomores Peter Durning and Charlie Kaplowitz, along with Streak Director and College senior Babaak Parcham, joined her for an adaptation of some Mean Girls scenes in an improvised bathroom, demonstrating that the shower is a perfect place for working out some frustration over high school cliques and insecurities.

Themes of awkwardness, exclusion and, of course, metamorphoses, remained strong throughout the following skits. College juniors Christine Walden, Julia Melfi, Arif Silverman and Max Merrill composed hilarious shorts that moved seamlessly from sandbox wars to office politics. College junior Erin Amlicke and College sophomore Caio Ingber also shone in a kidnapping skit, in which the two played deadpan and cynical children trapped in the subway.

To finish, the entire troupe came together to move from the kidnapping skit into an elaborate art museum heist, and ended with a skit that poked fun at a model family in a Starbucks.

Following the Primitive Streak performance, there was a bit of confusion surrounding the 30-minute intermission that was to precede the Sunshine Scouts’ set. Still, the size of the audience didn’t decrease a bit. By 9 p.m., the studio was packed once again, providing a warm welcome to the Sunshine Scouts, who entered the studio whooping and waving energetically from the stage side of the room.

After several suggestions from the crowd, the Scouts decided to start with “toothpaste,” setting the stage for an evening of comedic mishaps and questionable dental hygiene practices. College senior Brian Gale and College junior Taylor Greenthal, both troupe co-captains, opened the set with a skit of what could easily be deemed the worst camping trip ever. Starting off as only slightly odd — with Gale’s character using tree bark for a toothbrush — the skit quickly developed into a tragically humorous tale in which Greenthal’s character finds herself stuck in a shack with Gale, who turns out to be a fugitive convinced that the two of them are dating. Needless to say, their adventures proved to be quite interesting and, with time, downright hilarious, as the Scouts returned to these characters at later intervals.

College First-year Jesse Arnholz and College sophomore Evan Hertafeld followed with a skit that started out as a simple good deed, with Arnholz playing the part of a rough but undoubtably good Samaritan that offers to walk Hertafeld — as a convincingly crotchety senior citizen — across the street. By the end of the skit, the pair skipped off to the side to give Hertafeld’s character the chance to brush a tiger’s teeth, mostly keeping a straight face.

In another standout skit, College junior Will Banfield, College sophomore Sam Pfander and College first-years Harley Foos and Jessie Gaston came together with Arnholz to work out a family rivalry that erupts between a father and his awkward son. Envious of his father’s teeth and ashamed of what Pfander refers to as his “vandalized tombstone of a mouth,” the son, played by Foos, acted as a comedic example of teenage insecurity, prompting laughs from the audience who could probably empathize with the character in one way or another.

After alternating between continuations of these three main skits, the Scouts finished strong with an enactment of a dentistry conference gone awry and a return to Greenthal’s character stranded in the woods.

Overall, both acts were a hit, offering students a great way to unwind and have a good laugh on a Saturday night. Both performances were 30 minutes on the mark, moving from one skit to the next with ease and continuity. The new recruits of both groups were especially strong performers. Durning and Kaplowitz from Primitive Streak, and Arnholz, Foos and Gaston from the Sunshine Scouts all stood out, even among their more experienced peers. They demonstrated a perfect blend of smart and silly humor that truly resonated with the crowd.