International Falls brings a Seinfeld twist to a stand-up tragedy | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Theater Review

International Falls brings a Seinfeld twist to a stand-up tragedy

A comedian and a desk clerk in a podunk town share laughs and secrets.


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A tight script with the dark, quirky feel of a Twilight Zone episode, International Falls spends one night with a stand-up and his one-night-stand. Sean Higgins plays Tim, a hack comedian with a ruined life roving from crappy town to crappy town—think Louis C.K. with consent. In the sleepy city of International Falls, Minnesota, he meets Dee, a hotel clerk, played by Marie Weigle, and both gain more than another notch in the belt.

Those unfamiliar with the world of comedy will enjoy wallowing in Thomas Ward's boozy blue mythos, presented by Agency Theater Collective and End of the Line Productions. The appeal of smoky clubs, romanticized alcoholism, and witty zingers has carved out a respectable bit of territory for itself in the American zeitgeist. Structured like an episode of Seinfeld, the play toggles between stand-up sets and conversation. But even playing a hack comedian takes commitment, and we need to see Tim working harder to land the jokes. As it is, the stand-up sets tend to undermine the integrity of the show.

Director Cody Lucas guides the actors to drama rather than having comedy mask sorrow. By committing more to the comedic elements and toying with timing, pacing, and tension, Lucas and his cast could have let the tragedy accidentally slip out in cringeworthy pauses. This doesn't happen, and the result is a show that remains static rather than transcendent. Higgins and Weigle are great dramatic actors who easily enrapture the audience. Comedy takes time and timing, and over the coming weeks, it's likely that the stand-up segments will earn their punch lines.  v

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