The setup: For The [SIC] Sense's third show in its new home in the Basement Theatre at Phoenix Center for the Arts, the sketch comedy troupe takes a break from transitioning new cast members in and welcomes back Kristie Cowles, a one-woman ninja patrol of comic anarchy. About half of the sketches are about some kind of sex (sometimes it's hard to tell), and while that alone doesn't make the show inappropriate for children, it's promoted as containing "adult themes," and parenthood is challenging enough without explaining, any sooner than you have to, women with fake penises (let alone real ones) hanging out of their jeans or how to play Fuck, Marry, or Kill.
The execution: No, screw that. Let's talk about this company's name. It's changed from Th [sic] Sense to The [SIC] Sense, perhaps to match its web address, perhaps because people were always putting the first "e" back in. It probably makes everything run much more smoothly, but a lovely phrase that used to have approximately two literal, two homonymic, and two figurative meanings in context now has one fewer.
Webster's defines [sic] as a term "used after a printed word or passage to indicate that it is intended exactly as printed or to indicate that it exactly reproduces an original." This is not one of those paragraphs that begins with "Webster's defines _____ as" because the writer couldn't think of a hook. There's now nothing before the [sic] that looks incorrect or unintentional, which makes the [sic] itself a type of mistake (which, BTW, means the [sic]s could go on forever).
The language geek in me mourns the loss of the "Th," which made it all make, ironically enough, "sense." It still sounds like both "sick" and "sixth" when you say the whole phrase, and it still succinctly tells you "very wrong, and entirely intentionally," which segues us into a review of a tight, imaginative show with fierce performances of unusually good and universally inappropriate sketches, vn though this whol orthographic nightmar mad m want to writ this post without any ""s in protst, but I lov you mor than that.
Bill Dyer has directed this edition of the 6-year-old series, as we'd been led to expect he might, and he's also onstage a couple of times, most memorably as the soulful soloist of a song parody co-written with Portia Beacham, "I Believe I Am Bi," an en fuego karaoke-backed rendition complete with power modulations and a wall-of-sound live backing chorus ("HE-IS-BI! -- HE-IS-BI!"). It's a textbook example of writing, talent, and rehearsal coming together in a jaw-dropping rush.
There's also a lovely "The Brady Bunch"-style opener that employs the stable of pimps, hustlers, and whores depicted above and even provides a cohesive framework for what follows. So many of the bits have an ending that's both funny and surprising -- the writing's really impressive this time around, with several great turns from Liz Bradley and Christopher R. Smith in particular.
Wes Hart contributed "The Alligator Sketch," which purports to be about what a crazy writer Cowles is. The display of script pages covered with giant "!!? ??! ! !!! !???" and "LOLz" along with Cowles' interjections of "Edgier!" and Bronwyn Schile's indignant demands for genre purity had me spitting and gasping.
Sadly, I can't just tell you about the way certain sketches went unexpectedly from disgusting to silly, or vice versa, because then you would have less fun at the show. But they do it expertly, especially Robert Topping's "Porn Star Gene," about a guy named Gene who shows up as Schile's blind date. Normally the Sickies keep very straight faces under trying circumstances, but Pat Russel as Gene had Michelle Nakamoto, as his regular waitress, just about dying of amusement in a way that invited us to enjoy her torment.
And Scott Gesser plays two short sets from his latest album, Admiral Vanilla, sandwiched between sketches instead of as optional preshow music. It works quite well. Now that he's learning electric guitar and has a strong repertoire of twisty comic songs, I think he could stand to sing a little more slowly in live performance so that we get every word. But he's great no matter what.
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This time around, I was moved to note how much I love Sandy Leon's ongoing sound design for The [SIC] Sense, which mixes current dance-pop with old R&B, TV and movie themes, and novelty songs in tantalizingly short clips. I believe in playing music for the audience during blackouts, however brief, and Leon's selections always have the audience chair-dancing and occasionally singing along, and I'm sure it's not just the meth.
Finally, kudos to the black-draped table made of 1 x 3s that appears to have accompanied the Sickies on stage since the very beginning, whether it's a talk show desk, an ob-gyn exam table, or just a place to put questionable props. When this piece of fake furniture gets its own solo show, make sure you're there.
The verdict: The Sickie Bunch is one of those evenings of comedy for the sake of which you put up with several other evenings of comedy. Redemption song! The Sickie Bunch wraps up Friday and Saturday, March 21 and 22, at 9:30 p.m. at 1202 North Third Street. Seats are going fast at $15 in advance ($12 each for groups of 10 or more booked online) or $20 at the door if you're feeling lucky. Purchase tickets here or call 602-214-4344.