The U.S.A.’s entertainment industry would doubtless like us to believe they invented the sitcom. From classics developed sixty years ago with I Love Lucy through to more recent hits like Arrested Development, this television – based phenomenon challenges characters to problem – solve their way out of the most surreal predicaments. All of this is boxed into 30 minutes flat and recorded in front of a live studio audience.
However, a popular form of absurdist French theatre beat them to the punch by 700 years. Dating back to the 13th century, The Boy and the Blind Man is the first documented evidence of farce on record. Jean-Baptiste Poquelin or Molière, the creator of Tartuffe (1664) and Georges Feydeau, who wrote Le Dindon (1896) and A Flea in Her Ear (1907) are possibly the most famous names associated with this subversive art form.
By definition, farce is highly stylized situational comedy, both exaggerated and extravagant. Along with outrageous and improbable storylines, plays will often feature tangential dialogue and surprise plot twists. Viewers are encouraged to overlook these structural deficits and instead, to simply sit back and enjoy the ride.
Coating subject matter in broad humour, playwrights could potentially get away with murder. More often than not, stories made fun of current events such as religious hypocrisy, political corruption, and questionable social conventions, adding much to the risqué thrill of it all.
The tongue – twistingly named, Parallelogramophonograph or PGraph for short, is a Texas – based theatre troupe currently touring Australia. Presenting a season of improvised French farce, what makes this brash young quartet stand out is that each performance is created off the cuff.
A combination of theatresports, Spontaneous Broadway and the popular television game show, Whose Line Is It Anyway, PGraph’s process is a fascinating and exciting act to witness first – hand.
Working non-stop together since 2005, Kaci Beeler, Kareem Badr, Roy Janik and Valerie Ward are a delight to watch. Potentially playing on the risk that we’re not quite sure what will happen next, their confident and enthusiastic synergy is palpable.
Audience participation right off the bat determines the direction their story hour will take. Moving through a series of introductory poses, whichever one is liked the best becomes an integral part of the narrative to follow. As it happened, the pose chosen on the evening this review took place, literally produced quite spanking results.
With each of the actors decked out in period make-up and costume, PGraph’s tale revolved around a middle – class couple determined to find the perfect suitor for their only daughter.
Tested through a series of games and word play, the man in question must not only win their approval, but fight off a rival for their daughter’s affection and attention as well. Of course, with countless misunderstandings thrown into mix, a neat plot reveal ties everything together by curtain down.
It was a rare treat to watch this highly skilled company take on the risks involved with improvisation. Not only that, but to present themselves as actors playing a theatre troupe putting on a show gave the evening a clever metaphysical touch as well.