Los Angeles Theater Review: A WORD FROM OUR SPONSORS (Son of Semele in Silverlake)

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by Mia Bonadonna on January 26, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


Velvet Pile’s comedic look at identity and commercial branding, A Word from Our Sponsors, is running as part of the Son of Semele Company Creation Festival. Comprised of comedic duo Alexis Notabartolo and Amanada Barnes, Velvet Pile uses comedy to explore arbitrarily existent social constructions such as gender roles and standards of beauty. The show concerns Gina and Diana, professional women who have made a weekly tradition out of getting drunk at a Burbank Olive Garden as they wait for Della Reese to make a surprise appearance. The production is primarily sketch comedy that uses the women as vehicles of a loose plot held together by an hour’s worth of cutaway commercial parodies. Velvet Pile’s sense of humor is enlightened and undeniably funny, but A Word from Our Sponsors lacks style, dramatic skill, and a tight script.

As a critic, I rarely accept frequent requests to review sketch comedy. It is difficult to find anything meaningful to say about it as a performance genre, despite the promise of easy entertainment. From a theatre lover’s perspective, it is a lesser art form: Sketch comedy places no importance on proficient acting, calculated scripting, or artful staging. Based on the likes of iO West, Second City, and The Groundlings—Alexis Notabartolo in A WORD FROM OUR SPONSORS by Velvet Pile at Son of Semele Ensemble.organizations which apparently teach their charges to exploit missed social expectations while amateurishly reciting unconvincing dialogue—the predictably formulaic techniques are pervasively obvious and cliché.

In the case of A Word from Our Sponsors, the characters have serious discussions interrupted by sketch cutaways. The actresses highlight the absurdity of social paradigms well, but they fail to reveal the deep complexities of human emotion that thoroughly trained actors so beautifully gift to their audience. I’m not saying we need a Tony-worthy dramatic performance during a comedy bit, just make the characters believable. The cutaways of Notabartolo and Barnes are funny, but every moment of dialogue in between punch lines lacks energized aplomb. The dramatic moments are not executed as well as the comedic scenes, suggesting also that the script needs some tightening to deal with the disconnect.

There is little attention to staging elements and overall aesthetics here. The set is uninspired and looks hastily thrown together, and the bare-bones, mismatched-but-functional prop approach is the norm for sketch comedy. In the theater, good, cohesive scenery sets the tone for the performance, and facilitates the transportive experience of live performance. Good lighting can physiologically and Amanda Barnes in A WORD FROM OUR SPONSORS by Velvet Pile at Son of Semele Ensemble.psychologically influence what the audience feels; it molds emotion and bolsters the script. It is just sad and foolish that not only A Word from Our Sponsors but sketch comedy as a whole uses a non-creative approach to staging. It is a missed opportunity to create atmosphere for the audience.

It’s great that Velvet Pile projects enlightened social commentary about the far-reaching impact of commercially branded products on daily life and those branded by conventional labels, and they do so with a much needed emphasis on gender identity in a performance arena (sketch comedy) that seems largely dominated by men. They say all the right things; they just don’t say them artfully enough for this critic to gush compliments. Maybe it is unfair to judge sketch comedy by standards set by traditional theatre, but I think it is time for all of our local Hollywood sketch comedians to leave the dark recesses of their comedy clubs. Take a method acting class, perhaps look at Pinterest for clever set ideas, defy your genre norms, and at least try to rise to the challenge of creating art, not just cheap laughs.

Son-of-Semele-Ensembles-Company-Creation-Festival-POSTERphotos courtesy of Velvet Pile

A Word from Our Sponsors
Velvet Pile
part of Son of Semele Ensemble’s
Company Creation Festival
Son of Semele Theater
3301 Beverly Blvd. in Silverlake
scheduled to end February 21, 2014
for tickets, visit www.sonofsemele.org

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