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Friday, April 12, 2024

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PerformanceStage ReviewLampooning the foibles of amity in 'Look! We Have...

Lampooning the foibles of amity in ‘Look! We Have Friends!’

Killing My Lobster's latest comic adventure takes aim at Dale Carnegie, Hello Fresh, and the scent of Ben Shapiro.

You may not know the name, but you’re aware of Dale Carnegie’s influence, even if you don’t know exactly why. He wrote a pedantic little tome entitled How to Win Friends and Influence People, a book known more for its oft-parodied title rather than the dodgy “advice” between its two covers. This literary snake oil sold millions of copies for decades, all due to tapping into a feeling that was just as common in 1937 as it is now: the awkwardness of trying to make new friends as an adult. The Internet didn’t create the problem, it just focused a brighter light on the topic.

Carnegie’s unfortunately influential book gets called out by name in Killing My Lobster’s latest show, as part of their “punch upward” approach to skewering The Establishment. As with most topics, KML turns the awkwardness of friendship into a strength. Their show, Look! We Have Friends! (through March 16 at Eclectic Box, SF), mines laughs not just from the discomfort of trying to forge and maintain adult relationships, but also from the idea that the line dividing friend and enemy can blur pretty easily, if not outright disappear.

Indeed, the third proper sketch of the night features two friends on an Amtrak, waiting for a third friend to return from the restroom. What starts as a mobile reunion between three old pals suddenly takes a hilariously Hitchcockian turn for the malevolent. Another sketch sees two unnamed Roman senators gleefully stabbing Caesar only to be offended that his final words are about Brutus.

Jan Gilbert of Killing My Lobster. Photo by Kayleigh McCollum
Jan Gilbert of Killing My Lobster. Photo by Kayleigh McCollum

Amongst the 22 proper sketches across the two-hour show, the troupe not only lampoon the foibles of friendship, but also things that have the word “friend” in the name. This is how we go from sketches in which cancelling plans is akin to sexting to a piece where Tiktoker promotes a Friends solo play at a community theatre in Tempe, AZ. It’s how we get one sketch where 49ers (as in the actual gold prospectors) have their friendship tested when one announces a to the newly-formed “Oak Land”.

Given that KML’s last show was a hit-and-miss “Best of…” collection, this one shows why the overall theme of a KML show matters to the individual sketches. The ones in the last show weren’t bad, but they were all sketches that were stronger as part of the overall shows rather than as standalones (although the troupe has made plenty of those). Every sketch of this show relates to the theme of friendship, so that even its few weaker sketches (a douche-y “bro” giving a tour of his family’s mansion and a sketch of Real Housewives of Mt. Olympus) feel on-brand. More than that, the show has so many strong ones that those few not as strong don’t drag the show at all.

Which is good when you plan to go on for two hours. It’s been years since the troupe did a show long enough to require an intermission. Every night of this show features a pair of guest performers in-between the aforementioned 22 sketches and a single break in the middle. This night included a pair of improv runs (both of which went on a bit too long) from the duo Slumber Party, and drag routines from Polly Amber Ross (a vision in red sequins and someone no stranger to the organized madness of the Lobster troupe).

Ray Dequina of Killing My Lobster. Photo by Kayleigh McCollum
Ray Dequina of Killing My Lobster. Photo by Kayleigh McCollum

And a funny cast helps, too. Director-AD Nicole Odell filled in at the last minute for performer Lisa Hu; she once again proved herself an able KML performer just as much as its company head. The entire first-half of the show is her paired with Bay Area performer Max Seijas, which includes such sketches as a bro-y husband at the alter (Seijas) backed up by his equally-bro-y best man, a Hello Fresh rep (Seijas) who suggests the company deliver human companionship along with their meals, and a recurring night club sketch in which a toxically-positive wing-woman (Odell) reveals her loyalty to be outright deadly. As unorthodox as it is to limit half the cast to half the show, they keep our attention throughout.

The same is true of the second-half, performed by KML MVP Jan Gilbert and newcomer Ray Dequina. Gilbert is her usual spot-on self, bringing her musical skills and mugging faces to pieces that find her trying to sell (Goddess help us) a Ben Shapiro “masculine” body scent on HSN. One of the show’s highlights is a solo piece in which she plays a Jersey(?) girl eager to be made a godparent, but tries her best to weasel out of it when she realizes actual parenting is involved. Given the companies with whom Dequina’s worked before, I’ve probably seen his work and just can’t recall. He doesn’t do bad in his first KML romp, particularly in his own solo spot where he plays the descendent of the aforementioned Carnegie.

Although the company isn’t able to have the strong masking policy they used to, wearing a good mask certainly made me feel better, even in a crowd where I was one of the few to have one. My Aranet4’s CO² readings peaked around 2060ppm during the show, but had dropped to 1969ppm by the final bow.

As KML continues to find its footing in their new digs, this is a strong way to show off their comfort in the place. What’s more, reaching out to fellow local performers helps maintain the sense of community that’s been harder to find in Bay Area indie theatre of late – particularly after the closings of EXIT Theatre and PianoFight. The friends onstage seemed to enjoy themselves as much as the friends off-stage did watching them. If you catch their final shows this weekend, it won’t be hard to see why. 

KILLING MYLOBSTER’S LOOK! WE HAVE FRIENDS! runs through March 16 at Eclectic Box, SF. Tickets and further info here.

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Charles Lewis III
Charles Lewis III
Charles Lewis III is a San Francisco-born journalist, theatre artist, and arts critic. You can find dodgy evidence of this at thethinkingmansidiot.wordpress.com

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