Sphinx: Poignant Sketch

May 4, 2011
Perhaps the term “sketch comedy” brings to mind short, bizarre skits, drawing their humor from absurd settings or characters.  “Sphinx,” directed by Tyler G. Hall ’11, proved that sketch comedy is not limited to the absurd realm, and can strike a chord with its audience while maintaining its entertainment value.

The two-act sketch comedy show ran in the Loeb Ex and represented the collaboration of at least ten writers and a versatile cast of eight.  The majority of its twenty sketches take inevitable, universal occurrences of life—job interviews, house hunting, diet struggles, book reports—and shed new light on them, instantly creating a strong camaraderie between actor and audience.

Head Writer Ben Smith ’12 and his team of writers produced a concise and quick script, which came off like polished improv, rather than mini-plays sprinkled with jokes.  As a result, the balance of actor-writer contribution was ideal: each actor’s creativity could shine through, while the script provided a solid and truthful foundation for comically exaggerated character choices.

The writers’ expertise was most evident in “Book Report,” depicting a schoolboy giving a report on a romance novel he found on his teacher’s desk, and “Singles Bar,” in which we witness a match of one-upsmanship between two men hitting on a girl, then the retraction and reversal of their claims once she is revealed to be pregnant and emotionally unstable.

Ryan Halprin, ’12, gave a standout performance, keeping the audience engaged with his remarkable versatility, and getting laughs even when playing minor characters like the Waiter in “Diet Plan.”  Zack Wortman ’14, is also particularly comfortable in front of an audience, and his pairing with Charleton Lamb ’11 in “Cops” was a highlight of the night.  Although some actors were given fewer opportunities to demonstrate their versatility, the cast had no weak link.

Despite a very simple set, many sketches were heavily dependent on props, and designers Tony Oblen ’14 and Rachel Stark ’11 provided the cast with props that truly helped create character: huge stuffed animals, several food items, and a wheelchair, among others.

In spite of all the laughs, the final sketch of the evening tied the show together poignantly.  Each actor re-entered as one of his or her characters, all to comment on the death of a biker (fatally hit by Lamb, playing a cab driver, at the beginning of Act 1).  Even as the biker is given a rather irreverent funeral by the rowdy group, the “circle of life” moment is tangible—“Sphinx” encourages us to value the characters in our own life and leaves us no option but to laugh at life’s organic oddities.

The Harvard Art Review Theatre Board

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