Don't Spit the Water!
nytheatre.com review by George Tynan Crowly
August 16, 2006
Yes, it's a game show. One which ordinarily plays weekly every Saturday night in the Belmont and Halsted area of Chicago. Three volunteers from the audience are invited, at each performance, selected at random (gulp!), to come onstage, fill their faces with water and then defy the comedy routines presented to them. How? By not laughing and therefore not spitting the water out of their mouths! If you spit, you lose points. The longer you can keep from laughing, the more points you score. Then there are gradations of the contest, but it wouldn't be fair to give them away.
On the surface, Don't Spit the Water! seems like a dodgy proposition, especially for insular, we-keep-it-cool New Yorkers. Sasha, the vaguely-Ukrainian-cum-Andy-Kaufman-sounding emcee of this event, kept a game face on the opening afternoon. His character is vaguely disconnected from reality, proud of his own silly synchronized dancing, and convinced that his game show is the most sophisticated of comic conceits. Steve Gadfin charms as Sasha, and it's not an easy thing to keep your cool and stay resolutely, blithely in character when you're having a hard time recruiting the three volunteers without which your show can't proceed. He has a sidekick too, and there's a running gag which explains the silence of "The Noob" (Paul Luikart), but Gadfin's basically on his own out there.
The three comedians who come onstage, one by one, trying to make the contestants "spit the water" reportedly vary, and that would make a big difference from show to show. The three official Don't Spit the Water! comics are actors playing comedians, so it's not like you're seeing the everyman kind of comic we're used to. Dan Telfer as the comedian "Jumbles the Penguin" with his weird penguin headdress and tuxedo t-shirt, promised the kind of unpredictable lunacy you need to make an audience forget itself. "Pretty Olga" (Mike Wiley) was just not funny (maybe too butch-on-butch?), and the third comedian "Caleb Hodgekiss" (Mike Burns) was so weirdly character-driven that he didn't initially seem like he'd be able to make anyone laugh (his thing was about sex, and there were unfunny but repeated vagina-jokes and one that fell flat about only being interested in doing people with Hep-C), but he grew on you. He would.
There was an intentionally stupid music-and-dance tribute to New York with a basketball, finger puppets in the program, and, my God, the three volunteers were amazingly game and fun to watch. This sort of off-the-wall (and a seedy wall at that) show, where everyone except the audience is pretending to be live-and-in-person but not playing themselves requires a very odd kind of genius, and it might even need Taylor Meade or Karen Finley to come do a tutorial about layering of reality to get it right, but, for me, this particular show never got more than periodically amusing within its intentionally cheesy context. But remember, the cast changes every show.