Mark Baratelli's Improv Cabaret
nytheatre.com review by Alyssa Simon
August 21, 2007
Mark Baratelli is a freakin' comic genius! Go see his show! Okay, need another reason? Every performance, Baratelli, accompanied by straight-man extraordinaire/pianist Jim Rhinehart, improvise an entirely new 45-minute cabaret piece. From the moment Baratelli walks out, his David Sedaris-like humor and elastic facial expressions and physicality win over the audience. This is not an evening of improv where the audience is forced to participate by calling out suggestions or situations for the actor to create. It is what comic improvisation should be. One extremely talented actor letting his mind take him where it will, combining outrageous creativity with the finely-honed craft of telling a complete, compelling and hilarious story.
On the evening I attended, Baratelli warmed up the crowd by telling about his childhood on a farm with a family that raised corn. "Rows and rows and rows....and rows...of corn". He went from describing a rural and idyllic upbringing to an increasingly funny and bizarre tale that combined imaginary childhood friends made up of corn leaves with smiley faces drawn on them named Pizza, because it was his favorite food, and Shirelle, because, well, it's really great gay name to cross-dressing parents; a psycho cat that causes a trip to the emergency room; and in the end, a touching confession and family reconciliation. The way I'm describing this doesn't seem to do his act justice. It's not really what Baratelli says, although the plot twists and circumstances are delightfully surreal and funny. It's in his delivery and timing. Plus, watching him then create songs about whatever subject he's talking about while poking fun of cabaret/lounge act conventions (liberal use of jazz hands and smarmy winks, holding the microphone vertically over his head in a "bring it home" moment, etc.) is a hoot.
Baratelli and Rhinehart have great comic chemistry. Rhinehart follows his twists and turns musically, bringing to life on the piano everything from a rampaging cat on a string to Baratelli as a five year old discovering his father in a dress. If you are looking for a fun show with a fantastically warped point of view and wonderful performers, this is the one.