Topicality has always been the Brave New Workshop’s stock in trade. When Dudley Riggs founded this satirical revue in 1958, he would stand onstage and read passages from the newspaper — like the Jon Stewart of his era — eliciting smart laughter with his comic asides.
Even in a deadly funny new revue that collects some of the best bits from the past decade, the company remains true to its roots. The staying power of the sketches in “Throwback BNW: Junk From Our Trunk” is no surprise — unusual cultural trends, awkward romance and political hypocrisy will always be ripe targets for send-ups. And the Workshop is adept at pinpointing stubborn underlying social conditions, especially relating to race and gender.
One sketch, “Looting and Finding,” was first done a decade ago in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but has been updated with images from recent social unrest. It features TV clips showing people of different backgrounds engaged in similar activities. The news broadcasters make a distinction between bereft people who “find” things and those who “loot.”
What’s the difference? Well, show me the picture of the person practicing it and I’ll tell you which is which, the sketch suggests.
It’s not only TV news that comes in for skewering from surefire comedians Lauren Anderson, Matt Erkel and Taj Ruler and the rest of the company. This production, staged with tight timing by Caleb McEwen and atmospheric music by Peter Guertin, includes an incisively funny send-up of an “MPR Fund Drive.” The radio hosts trolling for dollars become so desperate, they hold a caller’s child hostage until the parents pay up. No more freeloading listeners, the hosts say in what could be heard as a nod to Mitt Romney. All who tune in should pay their share.
A few sketches are dated, however. “Rizzoli and Isles,” about highly competent detectives who also are super sexy, felt stale. And “Rumor Has It,” a send-up of a TV serial, makes its point early, then beats you over the head with it.
But many of the bits are timeless In “The Joy of Baking,” Ruler and ensemble member Tom Reed use baking as a very vivid metaphor for sex. Another winner is “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Nikolai Gynecolovich,” about the miracle of birth — and of women’s bodies — featuring Erkel in a beaver hat as the Russian father of gynecology. “Throwback” also revives the famous “Pantsuit” sketch, a paean to power ladies, as well as bits about a creepy Walmart greeter and an embarrassing trend (“Vajeggings”).
Even at a time when TV is doing more and more comic send-ups of the news, the Workshop does not seem to be at risk of irrelevancy.