CHEESE LOUISE, The Illegitimate Players, at Bailiwick Studio Theater. Sometime when I'm not busy suffering through mediocre shows by lazy TV-driven comedy troupes, I'd love to find out when and where the first comedy writer discovered he could get laughs merely by imitating stereotypical rural Wisconsinites. I'm reasonably certain this tired formula predates Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis's early-80s SCTV send-up of their strikingly similar Canadian counterparts, the McKenzie brothers. And I know one key element of it--the eccentric woman who dresses funny and wears cat's-eye glasses--goes back to the early days of Second City. What I'm not so sure of is why writers continue to try to wring laughs out of it.
But then again there are a lot of things I don't get about the Illegitimate Players' tired and long Cheese Louise. Like why, when they decided to tackle such a repository of lower-middle-class camp as the Wisconsin Dells, Maureen Morley and Paul Stroili (with help from Doug Armstrong, Keith Cooper, and Maureen FitzPatrick) came up with so few truly original bits. And why the show is chock-full of out-of-date cultural references. The show's slogan, which riffs off the ad campaign for Alien, is actually one of the better ones: "In the Dells no one can hear you scream." (In the theater no one can hear you roll your eyes.) And where do the Illegitimate Players get off thinking this anemic work will sound funnier if they really punch their empty punch lines? I guess they wanted to make sure everyone knew where the laugh track would go if this were TV.