Ganging Up

A thumb-size nuclear reactor, four Confederate soldiers throwing rocks, and a Trojan watermelon to impress the ladies. If any of this makes sense, you've probably seen a performance by Valley improv troupe The Barrow Gang. Scattershot, the latest offering from the troupe, is the launch of its "Not-So-World Tour."

Founding member Jay Melius claims, "We're trying to work on the 'world' part."

"But apparently we're not trying hard," says co-founder Leanne Oates. So far, the tour is only in the Valley, but the group wants to take the show to Phoenix's sister city in Japan, provided that an open letter to millionaires works in their favor.

"If any of your readers want to give us large sums of money, they should feel welcome," says Oates.

Scattershot's opening act is "Tommy Cannon, Action Figure." Cannon, a puppeteer with the Great Arizona Puppet Theater, creates original adult puppet theater. Don't worry, it's not puppet porn. "It's not 'adult' like dirty little puppets. It's just made for adults," says Cannon.

"Hovercraft" is next, and is composed of Melius and fellow Barrow Gang member Jose Gonzales, who trained with the gang's improv workshop. An object from the audience becomes the subject of scenes interspersed with improvised songs set to Melius' "killer ax."

The headliner of the evening is Chicago-style long-form "The Harold." "The Harold" takes one single audience suggestion and turns it into a 30-minute performance. This one suggestion organically becomes a series of one-liners, then two other subjects, which then transform into a very smart collection of scenes that will have even people with no sense of humor slapping their knees. See one show or a hundred, it's never a repeat.

The Barrow Gang, named for the Bonnie and Clyde duo's Clyde Barrow, consists of seven players whose day jobs range from Marine to Web designer, and whose hobbies range from "blowing shit up" to playing Hero Clix. Oates and Melius founded the group in February of 2001, and were later joined by veteran improvers Cannon, Gonzales, Bill Binder, Jon Jahrmarkt and Mark Jordan. They hope to one day have their own space, but in the meantime, they perform on Sunday nights at Mesa's Undici Undici.

The Barrow Gang treats improv more as performance art, forgoing the usual games and gimmicks. Talking with them is almost more entertaining than the show itself, with one-liners and zingers spicing up the informational and bogus chitchat. If you're not careful, you'll walk away thinking that whiskey and limb removal is the cure for all ailments.

Advance tickets for Scattershot are available at Stinkweeds music for $3, or take your chances at the door with the "Pop-O-Matic Bubble" from the Milton Bradley game Trouble. Either way, this may be your last chance to see The Barrow Gang before they become world-famous.

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Quetta Carpenter