Opening Nights: The Habit 13

The Habit 13

Seattle Public Theater at the Bathhouse, 7312 W. Green Lake Ave. N., 800-838-3006, $19. 8 p.m. Fri.–Sun. Ends Dec. 1.

What do TV cop shows, zombies, the League of Justice, jumpsuits, and the Founding Fathers have in common? Nothing, yet that’s the challenge for this fun, zany sketch-comedy show. Its six writer/performers create a rough through-line that brings disparate skits not into harmonic convergence, but a kind of parallel burning of the fuse. Successive vignettes are swiftly interrupted, with costumes concealed by those handy gray jumpsuits, then resumed again.

The Habit was formed at the UW in the mid-’90s, though the troupe is now scattered around the U.S. (They are Ryan Dobosh, John Osebold, Jeff Schell, Mark Siano, David Swidler, and Luke Thayer. The very able Montana von Fliss was a sub on the night I attended.) What they preserve is a kind of collective muscle memory, the desire to push a gag further than the vaudeville laugh.

Early in the show, two guys enact a bizarre conversation of lewd hand gestures and pelvic thrusts; later they add dialogue that makes it a (near-) harmless sidewalk encounter. The priapic figure of Detective Crash Jackson, an über-cop extraordinaire who enters to his own fog machine and theme song (Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold”), humiliates his colleagues before getting his just deserts. Poor, disrespected Aquaman suffers the gibes and pranks of his colleagues (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.), but finally . . . no, let’s not give anything away.

The topical bits can feel like a concession to headlines and audience sympathies. (Drafting the Second Amendment, Jefferson scoffs at the notion of “automated muskets,” while Franklin despairs at their inability to agree on the Bill of Rights: “This isn’t candle science!”) Yet amid all the cheesy ’80s musical segues, what The Habit really nails is the everyday slapstick of social misunderstandings and faux pas—how we constantly say and do the wrong things, then desperately try to dig ourselves out. The show never underestimates the power of silliness, but it’s also grounded in hurt feelings (see: Aquaman) and a bit of heart.

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