Actor Lauren Anderson’s first scene in the latest Brave New Workshop revue has her cheating at solitaire. Now what crime could be more victimless than that? It’s just you and the cards — and the cards don’t talk. But cheating it is, and when you stack up all 52 cards in their suits, you know in your heart what you did.
When Lance Armstrong was winning all those bike races, he was doing a little more than filching a red seven off the bottom of the deck, but who were the victims of his pharmaceutical shenanigans? The other racers, who were probably also jacked up? The world-wide audience, which demands more speed, more performance and more celebrity? Shucks, Lance gave us rubes everything we could have asked for, and more.
But there are rules, and as every junior-high principal will tell you, “If you don’t like the rules, then work to change them. Otherwise, those are the rules.”
The Brave New Workshop dives into this whole cheating thing with “Lance Armstrong’s Steroid-Pumped Comedy Revue: A Cheater’s Guide to Winning.” The title is bland, especially for a company that just closed “Babe Lincoln and the Vajazzled Badge of Courage,” but that’s a story for a different time.
Anderson is one of four actors who take their hacks at the old proposition that winners never cheat and cheaters never win (What!? They do all the time). Sometimes, cheating is okay because everyone is doing it; sometimes, cheating is wrong — if we all agree on the definition of cheating. If it’s a little white lie that makes life bearable, or “borrowing” something off the Internet, is that really cheating?
One of the best pieces in the Workshop revue has all four actors coming together for book club. No one has read the pulpy tome in question but, oh, how they can discuss it. “I so identified with the main character.” “It took me on an emotional journey.” “The plot is what makes everything happen.” Meanwhile, Andy Hilbrands can’t stand the dishonesty and begins to judge. Which only drives the others into righteous dudgeon. After all, nothing beats an accusation of immorality better than a posture of high morality.
In another scene, devil and angel battle within the conscience of a woman trying to set up her dating profile on Match.com. If you want to hook the big one, you’ll need some juiced-up bait.
And is it cheating to wear makeup — just a little coverup, or mascara and lipstick? Hilbrands and Bobby Gardner have some fun with that proposition (note for future show: get Hilbrands into a Michelle Obama sketch).
In another piece, Hilbrands and Gardner play bromancers whose assumptions about each other are threatened by an evening of watching Oscar-nominated films (Whoa, dude, you know the songs to “Les Miz?”)
Anderson, as usual, is the most-inspired performer on stage. She does a news commentary on North Korea, detouring into free association and ending up somewhere west of Mars. We keep our eyes on Anderson even when the material is so-so, because you never know when she’s going to make you laugh.
Taj Ruler is the fourth clown, pitching in with high energy and a great smile.
The Workshop is now into its second full season at the new location in downtown Minneapolis and it seems to be working well. Director Caleb McEwen said from the stage on opening night that they’ve had three straight huge sellers.
I’m not sure whether that success is a result of higher quality comedy or the presence of three full-service bars on the premises. As the program says, “The more you drink, the funnier we get!!”
Judging by the hefty tumblers being lugged around, audiences clearly are agreeing — and God bless ‘em for packing the place. But plying folks with booze to get them to laugh? Gosh, isn’t that sort of, I don’t know, cheating?