FREE VANAUTU, at TinFish Theatre. Most young comic actors go through an awkward stage. No longer protected by the womb of family, high school, college, or improv training center, they don't yet know how to make total strangers laugh. So they put on sketch-comedy shows using material that knocked 'em dead in school--and the material just dies. Because it isn't any good. Because it isn't well executed. Because it fell victim to any of the thousand missteps that can derail comedy.
The energetic, fresh-faced folks of Free Vanautu, all recent grads of the Second City Conservatory, are at this stage. Frankly, most of their sketches suck. Some feel like poor imitations of Second City; others (like a labored parody of Blue Man Group) are so ineptly performed it's hard to tell whether more experienced actors could have made the material work. There are some sparks of originality--notably a mock rockumentary, narrated by the honey-voiced Phil Aman, about the rise to fame of a suburban Detroit mediocrity, Rock Boy. And the cast, equally divided between men and women, are personable and lively enough to suggest that at least some of them will go on to better things.
But not before they've learned the hard lessons that callow kids can get from a show like this one: comedy is hard, reaching people takes effort, and not everything that seems funny in rehearsal flies onstage. --Jack Helbig