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Comedy: it’s what’s for dinner

Entertainment Weblog Backstage In-depth interviews Musings by Jim Drake Sept. 29, 2010

Sept. 29, 2010

Well, after a so-so August comedy show, I’m happy to report that the September stop for my “Laugh More Tour” was non-stop funny. Honestly, I believe in my heart, that if we all bought a ticket to see the stand-up act I saw (and by “all” I mean, “the World”), we could go a long way to achieving World Peace.

So what did I see? Well, you’ll have to go online and read about it, because I don’t have the space here.

What I do need to tell you about, though, is that Hood River, to my knowledge, is getting a rare kind of treat. And since I can’t remember if we’ve ever had the choice to go see this kind of show, it must be a rare thing. And that thing is: A dinner-comedy theater show.

I don’t think it’s too complicated. For one ticket, you get dinner and the comic-thriller story of “Faithful,” an original play from the cast of FoxWell Productions, a professional touring company from Brookings, Ore.

However, in my interview with one of the stars of the production, Michael Fox, I found out that several facets of the play — and of comedy in general — seem to be more complicated than you’d think.

According to Fox, the story weaves different perspectives, twists the ideas stemming from tragedy and explores relationship themes to try and generate something that’s on the other end of the spectrum: Laughter. Isn’t it amazing that in the realm of comedy, you can take a story about a neurotic hitman and possibly, just possibly, contribute to solving World Peace?

FoxWell Productions interview

1. Your theater company plans a show for Oct. 2 in Hood River. Now, to my knowledge, we've had comedy plays and comedy-review shows, but never a comedy-dinner-theater. What connection did you make to bring the show to The Gorge? Did someone from the Gorge see your show and invite you to town?

Bernard “Bear” Trotebas from the Hood River Elks heard about us in a newsletter announcing our show at the Elks in Brookings. He got in touch. We talked. He checked us out and found out we’re a class act that he wanted to see perform in Hood River.

Comedy dinner theatre just means dinner with a funny show. This show is more of a dark comedy, not just silly and goofy. When we see a guy slip on the banana peel we laugh, but there is the possibility that he’s hurt himself, but we laugh because “It’s not me.”

In order to do comedy you’ve got to explore the tragic underpinnings. Then you twist the point of view and layer the comedy over the tragic elements.

As a director, I like to push things a bit further into farce. When you’ve had your worst day ever, when you think there is nothing more that could happen to make your life or your day any worse and it does and it does, that’s farce. It’s painfully funny.

Well, in this show what allows us to push the tragic elements into comedy is the thriller aspect of it. We open with Margaret on her worst day. We soon realize that the man who is sent to kill her is having his second-worst day ever. As Tony waits for the signal to kill her, they talk.

We find out that they both have very skewed perspectives on how the world works. We love exploring the theme of what drives men and women, how they get along — or don’t.

[Jim, maybe this is more than you wanted? Perhaps you can use parts of it to answer question #6?]

The dinner part really has little to do with our show. It’s more about the atmosphere for our audience. We love to perform in a cabaret type of setting. Proscenium staging is fine. We’ve done it all, but traditional theatre can be a bit intimidating for some people. When you can sit around a table with friends, eat, drink, talk, it’s easier for some people to go out and see a live show.

2. How many shows/productions do you guys do a year?

It’s a tremendous investment of time and resources to mount a show, so we like to get as much mileage out of a show as we can. We produce a new show every year and then add it to our repertory. We can then bring up a show we’ve done in the past when we have an opportunity to perform at a new venue. We are also very flexible and can tailor most of our shows to almost any type of space.

3. From your website, it seems you guys perform mainly at the Oregon coast. How many years have you performed and has the cast remained consistent?

We started this company 10 years ago. Both Victoria and I had professional careers of several years each before we met. We’re based in Brookings, with most of our talent living within a 25-mile radius.

We have regular stops we make with our new shows along the Oregon coast each year, but we go just about anywhere we can find a place to play. We’ve been as far north as Juan de Fuca and Bellevue in Washington State, and we travel into California as well as points east.

Victoria and I started the company initially because we found a chemistry on stage that people enjoyed seeing. Dale Giottonini joined us about five years ago. He does some acting, and he’s our stage manager and tech guy. I direct and act, along with a lot of other stuff. Victoria is our producer and handles most of our public relations. We all wear a lot of hats.

Our cast changes depending on the show; we invite people to audition for us. Obviously it’s easier to travel with fewer people and smaller sets.

There’s a show we may be doing in Bend in December. It was our very first FoxWell show, “It Had to Be You,” by Rene Taylor and Joseph Bologna. It’s just the two of us in an odd-ball Christmas comedy.

4. Comedy, as I'm finding out this year especially, comes in many different forms. Who do you and the actors you work with draw your inspiration from?

Other comedians used to accuse Milton Berle of stealing their material. I’m not sure who said it first, but “If you’re going to steal, steal from the best.” The idea is to make it your own.

My own point of focus has always been from the director’s point of view. Charlie Chaplin has had a big influence on me. There are many others, from The Three Stooges to Eddie Izzard. Victoria loves Madelyn Kahn, John Cleese, Jon Stewart, the writer Jasper Fforde, Eddie Izzard. We’re big Izzard fans.

Music also plays a big role for us. Rhythm, notes, melody, sound all contribute to the precision of performing. Victoria claims she can sometimes “hear” the music of how a line should sound. (She also claims she can’t sing a note.)

A good rule of thumb: The greater the juxtaposition between comedy and tragedy, the more cathartic the laughter.

5. How many hours of rehearsal does the show need until it's really ready for the stage?

We rehearse until it’s done. Depending on the size of the cast, their personal schedules (we all have “real” lives), and the demands of the script, I have to be mindful of achieving certain goals by a certain time before we open. Generally, we plan on a six to eight week rehearsal schedule for most shows.

6. Without giving away too much, what can the Hood River audience expect to see on Saturday night?

Whip-lash dark comedy. Thrills and chills. Faithful is the tale of the neurotic hitman Tony who, as a man of honor, is bent on killing someone, anyone, as long as he gets paid. (He really, really needs the money.) His intended victim, Margaret, has a trick or two up her sleeve, and her shady husband, Jack, who might have hired Tony to do her in, well…. Three desperate people toy with each other, switching allegiances in the deadly dance of deceit and delusion. And Tony calls his shrink a lot.

Of course, with a “Sopranos” flavor, this show is recommended for mature audiences (adult content and language).

During our recent tour of this show, audiences were laughing uproariously one minute and catching their breath the next. People who have seen us before know that no matter what the show is, they’re in for solid entertainment. But here’s a logline for you: Twenty years ago, Jack and Margaret vowed, "Till death do us part.” Tonight they seal the deal.

7. Tell us about what you like to do when you're not acting (is this a full-time job or hobby?)

For a long time we all did theatre because it was “fun.” Like most other artists, we’ve done a lot of different things to support our careers. And then the economy tanked….

FoxWell has been making steady gains over the years, but lately it’s been tough, for a lot of people. We’ve been writing our own material lately. But yeah, this is “full time.” And we love it. Victoria hangs out at the gym a lot.

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