As is Killing My Lobster tradition, the programs for their latest sketch show feature demographic surveys that end with silly questions for the pre-show raffle. On this belated opening night, we were asked to rename any part of the human body as we pleased. The winning entry suggested renaming the entire body “meat sack.” My guess is that the winner is a fan of Bender from Futurama.
Incidentally, the term “meat sack” actually pops up a few times in The Skin We’re In (through September 2 at CounterPulse, SF), a show that finds KML simultaneously praising and lambasting these fart-prone bags of flesh we sentient beings call bodies. Given that the show is directed by Maya Herbsman, one of Bay Area theatre’s most prolific intimacy coordinators, and head-written by company member Meg Trowbridge, co-creator of a podcast about one of the most politically controversial bodily functions, it’s a safe be that the show’s creators have a lot in mind about bodily autonomy.
Indeed, the show’s opening song is a send-up of Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” titled “Gee, Bodies are Disgusting.” The lyrics not only feature the winning trivia term, but sum up the show’s central thesis as follows: “The worst thing about bein’ a meat sack/ All the magazines that tell you not to eat snacks.” It’d be easier to love our bodies if there weren’t an entire system of capitalism profiting off our self-hatred of them, so here we are. Fortunately, the troupe also give us someone to blame for this self-hate with a Matthew Beld-scripted sketch introducing us to Adolphe Quetelet (Jan Gilbert), creator of the body-mass index. He has no shame in telling us that the ideal body type is his, “a Belgian man from the 1840s.”
Other sketches mine laughs from the body’s unpredictability, such as with another by Beld in which a patient (Marisa Hankins) has their heart rhythms described to them in the form of tap-dancing by a medical assistant (Isabel To). It’s a surprisingly educational piece. Similarly, writer JB Tang Jackson seems to be preparing for the nigh opening of the Union Square IKEA by suggesting that their trademark free meatballs can stave off “hangry” rash decisions.
We not only get to hear a variety of characters commenting on the bodies of themselves and others, but we also get to hear from the actual body parts. One of the night’s funniest sketches (also written by Jackson) features the always enjoyable Charlie Gray (in a wig that can only be described as “mid 2000s Steve Zahn”) as the “Himbo Heart.” Yes, really. Gray personifies the body’s largest muscle as a walking, talking “Hey, gurl” meme; one that totally knows what you’re going through because the heart is all about those really deep feelings.
The one-hour, 22-sketch show is at its strongest when the sketches (written by Trowbridge, Jackson, Beld, Ela Banerjee, and Dan Michel) have a solid focus to go along with the off-the-wall characterizations. A good example is a Banerjee sketch in which two femme pilots for the Rebel Alliance take time out of the Battle of Yavin to make a PSA about “feeling not-so-fresh ‘down there.’” Even the night’s running gag—featuring Benny Garcia as someone who badly needs a toilet—works based on the pure energy Garcia puts into the one- or two-minute pieces.
Pieces that don’t quite fit include one in which a befuddled Captain America (Gilbert) doesn’t quite grasp the working methods of new Avenger Chub-Rub (To). A piece about a couple unable to have sex due to an unacknowledged Stanley Tucci fetish (you’ll never guess whose) work better conceptually than in practice. And a sketch about babies attending a one-year-old’s party, which is treated almost Real Housewives-style, is more a testament to its performers than the script itself.
Still, those performers make the show a strong one. In addition to the always reliable Jan Gilbert, Marisa Hankins joins as a fellow last-minute addition to the cast after Tiffani Lisieux and Ashley Jaye had do bow out. Hankins’ best moments may be as Miss Frizzle in a Magic School Bus parody, and as the Tooth Fairy, who’s attempt to get a bank loan is held up by the supposed monetary value of her millions of baby teeth. The banker in that sketch is played by Garcia, who makes his proper KML debut here after first performing with them at SF Sketchfest. Garcia brings an infectious manic energy that infuses every performance, from the aforementioned man-in-need-of-a-toilet to an old-fashioned, cigar-chomping Cosmo editor.
Gray brings their usual magnetism to their roles, whether playing the “straight man” subtly reacting to absurd goings-on or as the eccentric Willy Wanker aiding in a couple’s fertility treatment. Also reliably hilarious is KML regular To, who gets a solo spot to deliver a PSA about body positivity that’s simultaneously funny, sad, and reassuring. In other words, it’s the entire show in a nutshell.
With the late additions of Gilbert and Hankins, the show’s opening night was pushed back a couple of days—landing on Trowbridge’s birthday, of all dates. The house was full. Although I left the last CounterPulse show I’d attended because there were no COVID safety measures, I’m glad to see that KML continues to require masking at their shows, regardless of venue. With the exception of one snooty audience member behind me, the rest of the crowd seemed happy to stick to the rule. This resulted in a surprisingly low CO² average over the course of the night, with the full house driving my Aranet4 hover no higher than 915ppm and dropping to 898ppm by the final bow. Nice to see that a show about body positivity was dedicated to keeping our bodies safe.
The Skin We’re In is definitely one of KML’s better entries for the year, balancing sometimes-painful laughs with some undeniable shared truths about we fellow meat sacks (no matter how we each identify said sacks). It’s an hour of laughing through the love and pain of that comes with having these squishy forms and all their weird mechanics.
THE SKIN WE’RE IN runs through September 2 at CounterPulse, SF. Tickets and further info here.