Sometimes, the best theater is that which is nothing more than good fun. A clear display of actors performing for the sake of not just entertaining the audience, but also entertaining themselves. As an audience, we want to see actors having a good time and maybe even having a better time than we are, encouraging the audience to get in on the fun. Second Stage’s seemingly-improvised Stage Combat Showcase was a great mix of interesting visuals, sometimes-hilarious improv comedy, and overall good fun.
The showcase involved a group of actors in various scenes that all have some sort of connection to stage combat, some making a good amount of sense, like an old western bar fight, while others were bizarre but hilarious, like a murder at Thanksgiving dinner. Overall, as the title suggests, the actors intended to show off some stage combat for the sake of not only entertaining the audience, but at some points teaching the audience. It’s established early on that all of the combat was very well orchestrated, but almost none of the dialogue was planned. Clearly the actors understood the point of their scenes but probably just rolled with general ideas of what they planned to say. With the violence, this method of comedy was at points hilarious, like having a mother kill her child in cold blood or having a father have a clear hatred for his children.
The actual combat was mostly entertaining but at times slightly disappointing. Because the comedy was so entertaining, it was sad to feel underwhelmed by the actual planned combat. Sometimes it felt that the combat was held back, with less force than the actual dialogue. Maybe with more time and coordination the combat could have looked more professional. Although, being a student-directed piece that clearly was made for the sake of having a good time and joint fun, it makes sense that the students didn’t push the limits of how much actual combat they could have individually learned.
Each of the actors did a great job with each scene. The improv was almost always entertaining and was without too many awkward or uncertain moments, which can be a difficult impasse in improv. Two actors who were particularly outstanding were seniors Connie Des Marais and Russell Goldman. Both had consistently entertaining characters and onstage presence, particularly illustrated in their dynamic in the Thanksgiving scene. Russell’s brief yet incredible police officer character in the jail escape scene made me laugh an unbelievable amount.
One frequent and sometimes annoying problem with the showcase was that the music would sometimes overpower the actors’ voices in the scenes. This was especially upsetting mainly because I wanted so much to hear the jokes they were saying. But this only really occurred a few times throughout the performance.
An interesting inclusion in the show was the actors’ explanation of how to do certain stage combat that they performed in the actual scenes. These lectures occurred in between transitions and would sometimes feel a little awkward with the quick switches between performance and presentation, but it was a clever way of making the long transitions more interesting. It made the performance feel more like a workshop than a theater show and definitely helped include the audience in the performance, making it feel even more like a moment of shared enjoyment and fun. It was as if we were all a part of the performance.
The Stage Combat Showcase should be appreciated for what it truly is: people having fun. The actors had fun. The audience had fun. It is far from a theatrical masterpiece, but what’s great is that it isn’t really trying to be. It’s just friends doing what they want to do because they can. The showcase was incredibly entertaining, and hopefully Second Stage will choose to put one on every year, with more focus on cool combat and the same amount of great people with greater jokes.